My Gee20 Ontario Wineries, Exotics from Southern Italy, Craggy Strikes Again and Seriously Pink
Last weekend I was invited to present an evening with Prince Edward County wines at a small conference at Queens University in Kingston. It brought together some distinguished folks of arts and letters from across Canada. Most had no idea that nearby Prince Edward County made wine, as its small production is yet to radiate far from the shores of Lake Ontario. But this wine friendly crowd was aware that Ontario wine in general is “finally turning the corner to respectability”. I was engaged by a bright, loquacious woman – a leader in Canada’s “culture” industry – who professed great pride in Ontario wines and asked which wineries I thought were doing the best work – a really important question. I gave her my picks; but she hadn’t heard of any of them.
So in honour of Canada Day I would like to contribute to the learning on Ontario wines by naming names of those leading the way – something we are loathe to do as Canadians in fear of offending those not named. These are picked solely on dedication to quality – with history, size, clout, value and style be-damned. They make wines that that challenge me, excite me or at least make me stand up straight and pay attention. They make wines I want to own, even in occasional imperfection. They are wineries that are leading by example and entirely capable of putting Ontario on the global stage. Call them my Gee20!
They are, in alphabetical order: Cave Spring, Closson Chase, Creekside, Daniel Lenko, Fielding, Flat Rock, Henry of Pelham , Hidden Bench, Huff Estate, Le Clos Jordanne, Long Dog, Malivoire, Norman Hardie, Ravine, Rosehall Run, Southbrook, Stratus, Tawse, Thirty Bench and Vineland Estates. There are another ten or so that are knocking at the door, most of them very new, or just in transition toward a top quality focus – so maybe next year. I am sure I will hear about others who feel they should be on the list.
Vintages June 26 “Happy Canada Day” release contains some wines from some of these Gee 20 wineries. Do try the terrific Tawse 2009 Sketches of Niagara Riesling, which is a double steal at $17.95, as well as the Daniel Lenko 2007 Unoaked Chardonnay and Flat Rock 2009 Rosé.
I would like to move on to a mini-theme within the release that was probably not intended, and certainly not promoted. There is an intriguing batch of inexpensive whites and reds from indigenous varieties in southern Italy. That country is just chock-full of virtually unknown, local grapes, many rooted in antiquity and some of them quite exotic. TakeDi Majo Norante 2007 Aglianico from the Adriatic region of Molise. This progressive winery is taming and framing a grape variety that can be very complex and intriguing, but also ruggedly tannic and sinewy. This one finds a great balance. Then there is a fine white, the Vesevo 2008 Falanghina from a new appellation in Campania called Sannio, located in the Apennine Mountains inland from Naples, Vesuvius and the Amalfi Coast. The distinctive falanghina grape is rightfully becoming a fave of sommeliers who seek out the new and the inexpensive. And still in southern Italy don’t miss the great value Illuminati Riparosso 2008 Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, again from a very good winery. The producer is always the pivotal piece in defining quality.
Still in Europe, I return again to the Priorat and neighbouring Montsant regions of Spain as being one of the most exciting new/old terroirs in the world. Capçanes 2006 Costers Del Gravet from Montsant captures the unique balance of nerve, finesse and complexity consistently being delivered in this rugged, mountainous region by blending of several varieties like carignan, grenache, syrah, merlot and cabernet. The outcome is something like a cross between pinot noir and nebbiolo with an extra energy and virulence.
Not long ago I waxed on about the wines of Craggy Range in New Zealand, and there is reason to do so again with the arrival of theCraggy Range 2007 Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Merlot from Hawkes Bay. I can’t think of anyone in New Zealand doing a better job of highlighting varietal and regional exactness while delivering wines that are both poised and powerful. If you have strayed away from merlot, this is a great way to get re-focused on what it should be like.
A tip of the hat to Vintages for its on-going barrage of new rosés. There are all shades of pink and price and quality out there on the shelves this season – lots to choose from. But occasionally one comes along that is more about being a fine wine than a pink wine. Some may balk at paying over $20 for a rosé but La Bastide Blanche 2009 Bandol Rosé from the south of France is a must buy; a wine of deceptive paleness, subtlety and mildness that finishes with a firmness and minerality of any terroir-driven thorougbred.
And finally, I want to thank all those who turned out to Wednesday evening’s Up Close and Personal Event with Wolf Blass winemaker Chris Hatcher. It is always refreshing and enlightening to get the goods from someone who is so experienced and practical and straightforward. And it was truly touching to see so many long time friends from the original Wine Access and First in Line days, and to meet those who are following our efforts on WineAlign. Some of you had gentle advice for me that I have taken to heart.
See all my reviews for the June 26th release here.
– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign