This is the first of our monthly reports on Ontario wine by WineAlign’s Ontario-based critics. Both Sara d’Amato of Toronto and Janet Dorozynksi of Ottawa attended the ever-growing Cuvée and Experts Tasting events earlier this month and file their reports. It was announced during this year’s event that Brock University’s CCOVI program will be managing this event going forward, with proceeds going into wine industry training and research programs.
Cuvée Winemakers Showcase Their Best
by Sara D’Amato
Set in the Grand Ballroom of the Niagara Fallsview Casino, this 26th anniversary of Cuvée event showcased wines from 41 different Ontario wineries and a solid group of critically acclaimed Chefs. What was particularly exciting for guests of this annual event is that they are afforded the opportunity to fraternize with all of the participant Winemakers and Chefs. In addition to the Gala event on the night of February 28th, “Cuvée en Route” allowed pass-holders to take advantage of “red carpet” or exclusive tastings at the individual wineries all through.
This year’s Gala followed last year’s format which allowed winemakers to choose only a single wine per winery to showcase at the event (despite some grumbling that the wines were not always chosen by the winemaker). Regardless, I’ve warmed up to this approach for a number of reasons. One wine per winery is much easier to conquer and keep straight – let’s face it, not all of us are critics who are spitting at this event. In addition, this format allows the winery to put its best foot forward and to showcase wines that often get overlooked, expressing some personality along the way. Finally, the atmosphere feels less competitive and much more convivial as it is free of the constrains of awards and “best of” categories of years past.
I did very much enjoy the amped up décor, grandiose feel and terrific food this year which included the likes of Chef Erik Peacock’s Lamb Belly Man Tao (who subsequently was awarded a Promote the Promoters Award at CCOVI’s Experts Tasting). Such offerings certainly deserve a resplendent setting – not to mention the lovely company, dressed to their nines. But enough about style and backdrop and on to the wines . . .
It’s no wonder so many producers chose to showcase their 2010 reds at Cuvée this year, as it was a warm, near perfection year for darker hued wines. But reds were not the only stars of the show – pinot gris was shockingly good. Chardonnay was also striking and both pinot noir and sauvignon blanc made a strong presence.
Despite some minor variation, the wines largely showed very well and the choices were smartly made by the wineries. I would have loved to taste every offering, but unfortunately conversation and a real time impediment always seems to prevent such a monumental task. It was great to see so many WineAlign members at the event as well. And I extend a special thank you to Dan Trcka from Grape Selections who has shared his photos with us. (You can view more of Dan’s Cuvée pictures and his event summary at: http://grapeselections.com/cuvee-2014/ )
All WineAlign Critic and member reviews of the winery offerings can be found on under the tag: Cuvée 2014.
Stratus Red 2010 ($110- magnum) This awe-worthy offering from the hands of J-L Groux at Stratus is a wine of immense complexity and impact. Still young and a bit tight, the palate shows notes of wild dried herbs, rose petal, black fruit, vanilla, cedar and tobacco. Elegant, balanced and superbly knit. This rich tapestry of flavour set on a sophisticated and carefully coaxed structure is sure to provide enjoyment over the next half decade and more. Harmonious and brilliantly integrated are the hallmarks of J-L’s assemblages.
Lakeview Cellars 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Niagara, Ontario ($29.95) A gold medal winner in the National Wine Awards of Canada, this rich, ripe and highly gulpable cabernet sauvignon is a testament to the fact that we shouldn’t give up on this varietal in Ontario. In a warm, favorable vintage such as 2010, cabernets can be showcased proudly as a single varietal bottling. Notes of blackberry, a little bramble and pepper make up the palate bolstered by firm tannins. Acidity is mild but present and pleasantly balances the wine.
Ridge Road 2013 Pinot Gris ($16.95) A mere six weeks in bottle and this lovely pinot gris is already starting to show its colours – literally speaking it is a pretty pink hue (as the skins of this grape are actually pink) but also boasts a really sensual aromatic profile that includes notes of peach, honeysuckle and rosewater. Just off-dry, elegant and nicely balanced. Medium-bodied with a food friendly attitude. Notes of fresh green herbs linger on the finish. Relatively new to the scene, Ridge Road came to be a winery in its own right in 2009 on a 100-year-old established vineyard site on the western extremity of the Niagara region in Stoney Creek.
Calamus 2013 Pinot Gris ($16.95) It would appear that 2013 was a terrific vintage for Ontario pinot gris. Here is a wonderful example of such elegance of this cool climate style – Alsatian in feel with just a touch of sweetness. Creamy with notes of peach, pear, honeysuckle and white pepper. Mid-weight with great balanced. Pretty, lingering and honest.
Peninsula Ridge “Wismer Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95) A very impressive sauvignon blanc from the superb Wismer vineyard site. This harkens back to the days of Jean-Pierre Collas when sauvignon blanc reigned supreme at Peninsula Ridge. The winery is currently under the winemaking direction of Jamie Evans who has coaxed the maximum expression from these lovely grapes and has done so with a sensitive hand. The wine is hugely aromatic featuring complex and compelling notes. The palate is impressively succulent and nervy, fresh, classically built with notes of gooseberry, lemongrass and thyme. Clean, vibrant and with terrific length and at a very fair price.
Domaine Queylus 2011 Pinot Noir Reserve, Niagara, Ontario ($45). Domiane Queylus is a unique project spearheaded by winemaker Thomas Bachelder that has taken many years to come to fruition and involved good friends with a common goal. Without sounding sentimental, there is a great deal of love in this bottle. An impressively grand pinot noir that makes a real textural impression on the palate – with a feathered tickling of the tongue, the tannins are present but unobtrusive. Classically styled in the Burgundian tradition but with Niagara feel that brings a greater juiciness and a touch more lushness to the palate. Nicely ripened, the palate features notes of cran-cherry, sweet tomato, a slight smokiness and bergamot. However, the wine evolves so quickly in the glass that more is revealed with each sip – a wine to keep in your glass throughout the evening. Should be very interesting so feel this evolve over the next 3-5 years.
The evening came to a conclusion with Sun Media Après Cuvée Party which saw most of the guests dancing the night away with Icewine & bubbles or sampling an array of local craft beer, charcuterie and cheeses. Cuvée 2014 proved to be another terrific celebration of VQA wines with a greater sense of camaraderie and local pride than ever before. For more information visit the Cuveé website at: http://cuvee.ca/grand-tasting and maybe we can meet there next year!
The Experts Tasting at CCOVI
By Janet Dorozynski
The annual Experts Tasting at Brock University’s Cool Climate and Oenology Institute is one of the highlights of the trade tasting calendar in Ontario, with this year’s 25th anniversary edition being no exception. Each year the tasting focuses on a particular theme, for example a wine style, grape variety or a specific region/appellation in Ontario. This is my ninth or tenth year to attend this annual event and I have to say that this benchmarking exercise is always very informative and instructive. It is a means to see how wines being made in Ontario fare against one another, as well as against the foreign wine ringers that are always thrown in. Many of the wines are from current releases or vintages but we also get to taste back vintages which show the evolution and how each wines are maturing.
This year’s tasting boasted a record attendance of over 150 members of the trade, media and wine industry, with a bus load of Toronto sommeliers brought in courtesy of Wine Country Ontario and Will Predhomme, former sommelier extraordinaire at Toronto’s Canoe Restaurant and now wine guy about town.
The 25th anniversary tasting focused on grape varieties and wine styles that are noteworthy for Ontario and we had the opportunity to taste through flights of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and red blends from Bordeaux grape varieties. There was also the final “Wine Options” flight, based on the Australian blind tasting sport or a multiple choice test on the wines tasted, where we worked in teams to identify the grape variety, appellation, region or country of origin, vintage and price for five different wines. Sadly I wasn’t part of the winning table but we did put in a respectable showing with a final score of 85 out of a total of 120 points.
We started the tasting with a flight of Riesling “breakfast wines” with several stellar examples from Niagara and a ringer from the Finger Lakes. There were three Rieslings from Charles Baker, from the Picone Vineyard in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation in Niagara, which is the farthest away from Lake Ontario at the top of the Niagara Escarpment and, some might say, the least forgiving in terms of climate and terrain. However, from what we tasted, Riesling seems to have found a home in this sub-appellation, with the slightly off-dry styles of Charles Baker Riesling showing great intensity, finesse and ageability. The 2009 Riesling was especially impressive, with spicy citrus and pear notes, coupled with typical Riesling petrol notes and a long stony finish.
The Cool ABC flight, which stood for Appealing, Balanced Chardonnay, shone the spotlight on what many believe to be Niagara’s and Ontario’s signature white grape variety. Most of the wines showed cool-climate deliciousness with good restraint of oak usage. Notwithstanding, the Kittling Ridge 2012 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay from Niagara Peninsula showed more generous oak with intense floral and citrus and stone fruit flavours in an overall appealing package. And at $16.95, it certainly had many in the room wanting to have another look at a winery that was recently sold to Magnotta Wines.
The two red flights featured Pinot Noir and red blends, made predominantly from well-known Bordeaux grape varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Pinot Noir, which we learned from CCOVI’s newest oenologist and scientist Belinda Kemp, is a decidedly “unfunny” (read difficult and pernicious) grape in the flight entitled “You’ve been Pinot’d”, showed a range of aromatics and flavours, from light and floral red fruit flavours, to deeper, grippy dark berry flavours, depending on the vintage, site and of course, winemaker. A contrast in styles and approach is evident between the Inniskillin 2011 Pinot Noir Reserve and Foreign Affair 2009 Pinot Noir, the latter comprised of 40% appaissimento or dried berries in the blend, resulting in dense dark fruit and intense flavours, while the former showed very enjoyable but leaner red berry and current flavours with fresh acidity and a long chalky finish. Most of this Pinot flight, and in fact, many of the wines tasted, were very good indeed, with many showing the range and diversity of Ontario wines.
The red blend flight put the question to the tasters – “are we on the right track?” and had us determining if Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Merlot was the dominant grape in the blend. With Merlot comprising the dominant majority in a number of the blends, notably the Konzelmann Heritage Reserve 2012, Trius Red 2011 and Truis Grand Red 2010, which showed juicy and dense dark fruit, with the slightest hint of bell pepper flavours that could be coming from the Cabernet Franc or Sauvignon, or from the Merlot itself. The 2004 Meritage from Creekside Estate Winery and 2002 Henry of Pelham Reserve Cabernet Merlot, both showed remarkably lively flavours and intensity and are proof that Ontario red blends can be worthy of ageing.
The final “Wine Options” flight featured all the above varieties and red blends with a Lake Erie North Shore Syrah thrown in, an experimental bottling called North Shore Project, which is collaboration between Hinterland Wines in PEC and Will Predhomme, with fruit sourced from the vineyards of Colio Estates. The goal is to put LENS or Ontario Syrah on our radar and judging from this example, Syrah has a bright future in Ontario’s southern-most appellation. Next year’s Expert’s tasting will focus on significant wine styles and emerging grape varieties in Ontario and I’m sure will prove as equally interesting as this year’s tasting.
In addition to an instructive tasting, the winners of the Promote the Promoters Awards were given out to recognize those who promote, in an exemplary manner, VQA wines in Ontario. This year’s winners included William Mancini, a product consultant from Toronto and a posthumous award to the LCBO’s David Churchill in the LCBO category; Erik Peacock, from Wellington Court Restaurant in the category of Hospitality; Shawn McCormick of UnCorkOntario.com in the category of Promoter-at-Large; Lloyd Schmidt, viticulturist and Canadian wine pioneer for Lifetime achievement and to Wine Align’s VP of Wine, David Lawrason in the Media Category. For more information on the Award winners and a complete list of the wines tasted at this year’s Expert’s Tasting see here: http://www.brocku.ca/ccovi/outreach-services/experts-tasting
Editors Note: You can find our Critic’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!
Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, CCOVI, Cuvee 2014, EN, Janet Dorozynski, ONBlog, Ontario Wine, Sara d'Amato