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Ontario Wine Report – January 2015

What’s New Niagara?
by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

In mid-January I embarked on a long-overdue, four-day Niagara tour to better familiarize myself with the newer and most promising wineries on the Bench (plus Two Sisters in Niagara-on-the-Lake). It had been at least two years since doing the rounds. I was also partaking of icewine during the Niagara Icewine Festival, and dropping in and out of a role as an unofficial host to a group of sommeliers from the UK, Hong Kong and Montreal. Why are all sommeliers so young?

There is lots coming up, but if you want to skip right to a winery of interest click on a link below.

Pearl Morissette Estate Winery
Bachelder
Domaine Queylus
Redstone Winery
Kew Vineyards
Back 10 Cellars
Two Sisters Vineyards

Icewine First and Foremost?

The personal highlight of my icewine activities was actually picking icewine grapes, for the first time in my life. In fact, it was the first time I had “harvested” grapes of any sort, shattering a 30-year resolution not to partake – as a critic – of any part of the commercial wine production process. (Once a movie critic has made a movie can he or she be a critic?). Not picking grapes is a rather silly threshold of course, but imagine my relief when I discovered these were not real ice wine grapes (they were only partially frozen), and the whole exercise was a photo-op for the visiting sommeliers. Nor did it occur in the dead of night, but during the golden glow of a sunset that the photographers seem to have dialled in. I was spared the real deal.

David Lawrason Harvests Icewine

It all transpired in a vineyard owned by third generation grape grower Trevor Falk in the Niagara Lakeshore appellation. When we followed our picking bins into his press house I was stunned to find sixteen large basket presses installed largely for the icewine. They were still caked with the gooey pressed skins of the recent harvest and the air was sweet with fruit. The scale of it all shattered my romantic notion of shivering souls hand-cranking tiny presses outdoors to extract precious vials of juice. But on the other hand, it was an impressive display of efficiency and attention to detail. Icewine grapes need to be picked at an ideal temperature (which narrows the time window) and pressed almost immediately before grapes thaw – thus the need for rapid and high volume processing. But the scale of this press house also served to remind me how important icewine is to Ontario. We are, after all, numero uno in the world.

2015 Sommelier Group Photo David Lawrason & Gabor Foth

Trevor Falk supplies icewine juice to Andrew Peller Limited, and so the icewine experience continued later that evening at Peller Estates Winery where the group enjoyed a five course dinner by Executive Chef Jason Parsons. All but one course was paired with icewine! There was a frozen beet and goat cheese salad paired to riesling icewine; wild boar lasagna paired to Peller Estates Ice Cuvée Rosé;  icewine infused Blue Benedictine cheese with vidal icewine; and finally – the classic and my favourite – chocolate and cabernet franc icewine for dessert! It was gustatory tour de force, although we did feel sugar heavy by end of it all. I guess the icewine infused marshmallows we roasted over an open fire at minus 15C didn’t help. (Lesson, one experimental icewine pairing while entertaining is a great idea, but maybe not a whole meal)

We Really Make Wine Here?

Meanwhile, back to those sommeliers. It was informative to be informing off-shore palates who have little concept of Ontario wine, other than icewine (which some were serving in their London restaurants). The portrait we present to visitors is telling of how we really see ourselves, and our message is focused very much on what a difficult, almost absurd wine region Ontario is. We have a summer growing season like central France or northern Italy – a decidedly moderate (not all that cool) situation. But our seasons are totally unpredictable year to year and especially in the autumn. Some are cold and dreary (2014); most are very humid, and some are healthy, spry and warm (2012). There is actually no median here – no average Niagara vintage. And that is very challenging to our winemakers, and to consumer appreciation of our wines.

But the real story is that our winters can be dastardly cold – like no other wine region on Earth. A –minus 27C freeze-out ‘event’ overnite Jan 13/14 puts the 2015 vintage into question. The prolonged deep freeze of 2014 virtually erased less winter hardy merlot, syrah and sauvignon from the vintage, and reduced yields of all but the hardiest varieties planted in the most protected sites. It’s hopeful to say that global warming will improve the situation, but recent evidence points to climate change unleashing extreme and fluctuating events for which there is no adequate preparation.

Yet Ontario is pressing on, and has all kinds of potential. Let the rest of Ontario’s recent story be told via the new wineries that have opened in the past year or are still to open. Here is who I visited, with links to some of the most interesting wines I tasted.

Pearl Morissette Estate Winery
3953 Jordan Road, Jordan,
Visit and Taste – phone for appt, (905) 562-4376, no tasting room (yet)
Buy –  phone winery, very rarely at LCBO Vintages

Every once in a while I am challenged to rethink what I have learned over 30 years as a critic. It can be uncomfortable to be challenged, but it is essential. Perhaps to forestall being challenged it took me more than three years to meet with François Morissette, a Canadian-born, Burgundy–trained winemaker who came back to Niagara in 2007 to undertake this project financed by Toronto developer Mel Pearl. There has always been, until now, something reclusive and precious about Pearl Morissette – no highway signs, or tasting room, and a website that makes you peer inside for information. And an upper priced, idiosyncratic wine portfolio and style clearly not aimed at the average punter.

This may change this spring with the opening of a new facility that includes a tasting space, and the eventual roll-out of a less expensive line (as all premium Ontario wineries have had to do one day in order to actually sell wine in this market). This actually represents great news in terms of helping us understand what Niagara is, and what it can achieve. Because I tasted some of the most captivating wines of my Canadian tasting career at Pearl Morissette in January. And the UK sommeliers in the room that day were equally animated, even shocked, by the tasting as well.

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Persephone Cabernet Franc 2011François Morissette is actively and eruditely challenging many of the precepts upon which the Ontario wine industry has been built. To randomly pick some ideas: he challenges notions of grape ripeness (it’s all about skin ripeness not sugar levels); of sensory perception (aroma and flavour don’t matter only texture); of regulation (he has taken on the LCBOs VQA tasting panel on national TV after they ‘blackballed’ his riesling as being atypical, three times). He has been cast as a rogue, and god-forbid, a natural winemaker. Which he claims not to be because he uses sulphur when required. “Natural wine must still be good wine” he says, and I couldn’t care less whether the wine is orange” (which results from using little or no sulphur)

Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Black Ball Barrique 2012His outspokenness, intellect and ethos make many in Ontario’s mainstream uncomfortable. Just as he is uncomfortable in Ontario’s restrictive regulatory and retail environment. But he is sticking it out and doing what he can because he loves the winemaking challenge Ontario delivers and he believes it can be a great region among the world’s best with certain grapes – including chardonnay, riesling, cabernet franc and gamay. In the end he really only cares about making wine his way, and defends his freedom to do so. Here are a couple of examples of wines that deserve your attention.

Pearl Morissette 2011 Cuvée Persephone Cabernet Franc

Pearl Morissette 2012 Riesling Cuvée Black Ball Barrique

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Bachelder Wines

Address: virtual for now
Visits: contact 905.932.3942,
Buy: LCBO Vintages, Saverio Schirelli Agencies 416.253.4974

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011If you thought François Morissette was hard to pin down, get ready for the nomad – Thomas Bachelder. He is a wandering oracle in wine world – full of ideas and observations and creative next projects. But he is not without a focus – making memorable chardonnay, and to a lesser extent pinot noir, in Niagara, Burgundy and Oregon.  His family and heart lie in Niagara, but he has but not put down real commercial roots anywhere – although Oregon is sounding as though it is the most attractive option business-wise.  For now he is making his wine in an old fruit processing shed above Beamsville, that does not have a tasting room or retail license (he can sell to restaurants). Thank goodness his “basic” chardonnay is a Vintages Essential.

Born and raised in Montreal Thomas was a wine writer before becoming a winemaker in the early 90s. We travelled together as correspondents for WineTidings in that era. But he forsook writing for making wine, working years in Burgundy and Oregon before being hired as the winemaker for Le Clos Jordanne in Ontario in the early 2000s. He guided that ground-breaking Burgundy-inspired joint venture between Boisset and Vincor Canada until soon after it was taken over by Constellation Brands in 2009.

Since then he and his wife Mary Delaney have traipsed between Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy making a series of wines that emphatically show the differences in terroir, and in vintage. His top Niagara chardonnays come from two sites, the Saunders Vineyard on the Beamsville Bench and the Wismer Vineyard from Twenty Mile Bench.  The next evolution may be bottlings from upper and lower reaches of the large Wismer site – he is currently following separate barrels of each.

Bachelder 2011 Niagara Chardonnay

Bachelder 2012 Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay

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Domaine Queylus
3651 Sixteen Rd, St Ann
Visits – 905-562-7474
Purchase – winery 905-562-7474, occasionally at LCBO Vintages

Domaine Queylus Grand Reserve Merlot Cabernet Franc 2011 Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2012The Thomas Bachelder nomadic quest continues at Domaine Queylus, a project launched by a group of Quebec investors who wanted to throw their weight at the idea of making world class pinot in Niagara – this after tasting Bachelder’s Le Clos Jordanne work.  So they hired him to spearhead their project, joined by world renowned French viticulturalist Alain Sutre who assessed sites that Thomas sourced.  One was a slam dunk, a small sandier hillside site in Twenty Mile Bench owned by the Neudorf family.  It once provided the fruit for a Le Clos Jordanne bottling called “La Petit Colline”.  The other site chosen was set in heavier red clay just below the escarpment on Mountainview Road in the Lincoln Lakeshore appellation. It was planted to chardonnay, pinot and cabernet franc, and in one block of blue clay similar to the soils of Pomerol, some merlot.

But where to build the winery?  The latter site has a high water table and construction would have been too expensive. So Bachelder found and refitted a modern wine warehouse located way up and over the escarpment eight kilometres south of Vineland. Far removed from lake effect, it is a  no-vine land. But he is considering planting winter hardy hybrids and perhaps vinifera that he would have to bury in winter (as is done in Prince Edward County).  He has hired the talented Kelly Baker as the on-site winemaker – a CCOVI grad who had also worked at Le Clos Jordanne and in Napa.  And this spring a tasting room will open in a large log cabin-style house on the property.

As to the wines, pinot noir is the main event – but they are not single vineyard editions. The owners are more interested in creating three tiers – Traditional, Reserve and Grand Reserve – which makes Bachelder’s task more challenging – selecting and blending the right barrels to fit the price points. The pinots do indeed get to a fairly high level for Niagara, but as you will see in one of the attached reviews I was also quite taken by the quality of the cab franc and merlot blends from the Lincoln Lakeshore site.

Domaine Queylus 2012 Tradition Pinot Noir

Domaine Queylus 2011 Grand Reserve Merlot Cabernet Franc

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Redstone Winery

4245 King Street Beamsville ON, L0R 1B1
Visits: Opens May 2015
Purchase: Vintages occasionally, direct 905-563-9463 X 201, winerytohome.com

Redstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013The busy stretch of the King St Wine Route between Vineland and Beamsville is home to wineries like Kacaba, Malivoire, Greenlane, Kew Vineyards and Back 10 Cellars, with north-south cross streets like Cherry Ave and Mountainview Road leading to dozens more. In May this increasingly busy and important neighbourhood gets its new hospitality focal point when Redstone Winery opens, complete with an ultra-modern 100-seat restaurant (that the strip desperately needs).  Redstone is another project by Moray Tawse, bringing the same resources, organic/biodynamic viticulture and quality minded focus and team to bear. Rene Van Ede, with eight years at Tawse, is the lead winemaker of a projected 10,000 case enterprise that will have a varietal focus more than a terroir focus, and be positioned at generally lower price points that Tawse wines (20,000 cases).

Redstone occupies the site of the former Thomas & Vaughan Estates, a short-lived project that showed flashes of interest with cabernet and merlot blends – this due to the same red clay soils that inform the “Bordeaux reds” of Domaine Queylus (above).  Indeed Redstone takes its name from this terroir, which is the basis of its successful Bordeaux reds as well.  The Redstone pinot and brilliant whites are drawn from another Tawse-owned property called Limestone Ridge high on the Niagara Escarpment in Twenty Mile Bench (not far from Wismer on one side and Flat Rock on the other).  Altogether, and before the winery even opens its doors, Redstone has chalked up a fine reputation, finishing 14th out of over 130 wineries entered in the 2014 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Redstone 2013 Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

Redstone 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

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Kew Vineyards Estate Winery
4696 King Street, Beamsville
Visit – Open Daily
Purchase – Winery, store.kewvineyards.com, LCBO Vintages occasionally.

Kew Vineyards Old Vine Riesling 2012 Kew Vineyards Blanc De Noir 2011Still in the heart of the King St. corridor, Kew Vineyard opened Sept 2013 with a tasting room and retail store situated in a classic if unique and utterly charming brick farmhouse. The spacious, warm tasting room with high top tables looks through French doors onto one of the great Bench vineyard vistas in Niagara.  What’s more, some of the vines you see are historic – with riesling planted in 1975 by Herman Weis of Germany’s Mosel Valley.  That block turns 40 this summer, one the oldest vinifera sites in Canada.  It was joined by chardonnay in 1978, and since then the 50-acre site has been populated with pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and even an experimental smattering of marsanne, roussanne and viognier (Rhone white varieties which actually survived the frigid winter of 2014).

The Kew Family sold the property in 2010 to the group of investors that also owns nearby Angels Gate. Management of the winery was taken on by John Young with his daughter Lisa running the tasting room and retail. They installed Angel’s Gate winemaker and Aussie-trained, Niagara veteran Philip Dowell to lend his bring his experienced hand with Bench fruit to the venerable vineyard. Indeed something like François Morissette (above) I find his wines to be texturally rich and balanced as opposed to bright and sassy – although a new organic riesling in 2013 has plenty of snap.  Besides the very good marsanne blend, Kew is making a mark with sparkling, including a rare 100% pinot noir Blanc de Noir, and their Tradition that includes pinot noir chardonnay and pinot meunier.

Kew Vineyards 2011 Blanc De Noir Sparkling

Kew Vineyards 2012 Old Vine Riesling

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Back 10 Cellars
4101 King Street, Beamsville
Visit: Sat & Sun 11-5, or by appt 905.562.3365
Purchase:  winery, www.back10cellars.com

Back 10 Cellars The Big Reach Riesling 2013 Back 10 Cellars Big Leap Cab Franc 2013And we remain on the King Street strip!  Back 10 Cellars opened last summer with ten acres of cabernet franc, riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay. (There should be little doubt by now that these are solidly emerging as Ontario’s “core varieties).  The fallow orchard and farmhouse were purchased in 2002 with planting on-going since that time. This “big leap” into commercial, boutique winemaking was the vision of Andrew and Christina Brooks, a young couple from Calgary. He is a sommelier who has studied and worked with Calgary’s well respected wine retailer Richard Harvey; and Christina worked in Calgary restaurants. When they moved to Ontario and began raising a family, they also started a winery touring company called Crush on Niagara.

Step by step they cleared and planted vines and waited for the day they could make wine – while getting advice from respected Niagara incumbents like Lloyd Schmitt and Featherstone winemaker David Johnson. Indeed the wines are still made at Featherstone and bottled on a mobile line. Christina has transformed the front rooms of the brick farmhouse bungalow into a lovely, family-style seated tasting room and retail space, while their family occupies the rest of the house.  So far the wines (with production of less than 1000 cases) are sold only from the tasting room, but the riesling and cab franc in particular are very much worth the stop.

Back 10 Cellars 2013 Big Leap Cab Franc

Back 10 Cellars 2013 The Big Reach Riesling

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Two Sisters Vineyards
240 John Street East, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Visit – open daily
Purchase – Winery, www.twosistersvineyards.com

Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Two Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2013An edifice of considerable gravitas has risen on the leafy outskirts of Niagara-on-the-Lake, right next door to Peller Estates. From the thick Greco-Roman columns at the entrance, to the grand high ceilinged foyer and massive tasting room; Two Sisters is a showpiece designed to present the more glamourous side of winemaking to the throngs of tourists who come to “Canada’s Prettiest Town”.  And it’s done with almost aristocratic Euro flair befitting the proprietors – two Italian sisters named Angela Marotta and Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli.  Indeed the classy, yet warm family style restaurant called Kitchen76 best defines that ambiance – with an Italian menu by chef Justin Lesso, that centres on a massive pizza oven.  (So yes I ordered pizza, but not before a great appetizer called Polpo, grilled octopus in shaved fennel and radish).

As to the wines, I have tasted the portfolio of whites and reds, but I have not yet toured the winery with winemaker Adam Pearce, a Niagara College grad who arrived from Pentage Winery in the Okanagan Valley, B.C., to make the 2013 vintage.  The 2012 vintage and 2010 wines were made by Martin Werner, who has since moved to the head winemaking job at Ravine Vineyard. It appears that the reds are all from their home vineyards in the Niagara River appellation, reflecting the ripeness and richness of this warmer site, especially in the hot 2010 vintage. And they are quite pricey.  The whites from various cooler sites, in my view, hit a higher note – and offer better value.

Two Sisters 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay

Two Sisters 2013 Sauvignon Blanc

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So that’s a wrap, and thanks for hanging in! There are still other new Niagara wineries to profile –  Di Profio, Wescott, Aure, Vieni, and Honsberger –  but we will save those for another day.  What’s most heartening about the group profiled above is that people with passion, experience and money continue to see Niagara as a worthwhile investment, with real potential. Now if only we could get Queens Park back out of the distribution and retail channel so that these earnest investors and proud winemakers can get their wines more easily to market.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Photos courtesy of Sherri Lockwood, Andrew Peller Limited

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Canadian Wineries on WineAlign

It’s easy to explore Canadian wines & wineries on WineAlign. From the menu bar simply choose Wine >> Wineries.  You can select by region or winery name, or use our interactive map. We are adding new wineries all the time, so please let us know if we are missing your favourite.

Canadian Wineries

You can also click on the winery name on any wine page (or as in David’s Links above) to be taken directly to the winery’s profile page where you can see more wines and reviews. Just remember to set your filters to “All Sources” and “Show wines with zero inventory” as winery wines are not linked to retail inventory.

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Niagara Riesling: Making the Case

Ontario Wine Report
John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Is riesling Niagara’s most reliable grape? Aside from indestructible hybrids like vidal, most local growers point to either riesling or chardonnay as the best performing white grapes in Ontario. And I’d argue that while top Niagara Chardonnays are surely excellent, they also come at a price, usually $25 and up for the best, and often over $50. Fine riesling on the other hand, can regularly be had for under $15, while even at the very top end prices have yet to exceed $40.

The style and flavor spectrums for chardonnay and riesling are of course not comparable, but if you’re looking for regional and varietal paradigms, riesling wins on value every time. And when it comes to ageability, riesling is hard to beat. I recently tried a 1989 Vineland semi-dry riesling that was astonishingly good, a wine that cost well under $10 on release.

Some of the oldest vines in Niagara are riesling, with several parcels planted back in the late 1970s still producing. These old vines are the origin of some of Niagara’s best. Geeks will revel in discussions over clones and the subtly different wines they produce; Weiss 21 brought by Hermann Weiss to Vineland Estates from the Mosel is the most widely planted, producing a tighter, leaner more citrus-driven style. The so-called Clone 49, an Alsatian clone, delivers a broader, fuller, more pear-flavoured riesling in my experience. But of course it’s the dirt that matters most, a fact put into clear relief after a recent riesling-focused tour through Niagara wine country.

Vertical Tastings of some of the best Niagara Rieslings

According to Tom Penachetti of Cave Spring, vine age and soil depth are critical quality factors. “The sweet spot is on the bench under the Escarpment”, he says, referring to mainly the Beamsville Bench and Twenty Mile Bench Sub-appellations. Hydrology, or water availability, is one of the reasons, with the best sites benefitting from the springs and ground water that drain off of the Niagara Escapment.

Soils are thinner on top of the escarpment, Penachetti continues, and can dry out too quickly, or retain too much water. He believes the sites with heavier clays are best for riesling. But there are exceptions, such as the excellent Charles Baker’s Picone vineyard Riesling and Tawse’s Quarry Road Riesling, both from the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation on top of the Escarpment.

Soils further from the Escarpment, down by shores of Lake Ontario tend to be more sandy, with less clay and limestone, and tend to produce softer, fruitier, more peachy Rieslings. Yet even here, a few patches of heavier clays such as the vineyard at Back Ten Cellars, what the locals call “the brickyard”, yield more nervy, compact wines.

In any case, Niagara has much to offer in a range of styles. Here are a few to seek out to conduct your own tour of Niagara Riesling. Click on each for full tasting notes.

Top Values: Both Inexpensive and Representative

Vineland Estates 2013 Dry Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($13.95). A regional paradigm, with apple cherry blossom and green apple aromatics, lovely crisp acids and surprising depth.

Vineland Estates 2013 Semi-Dry Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($13.95). All from the original St. Urban’s Vineyard planted in the late 1970s. Although semi-dry, this is beautifully balanced between  generous and fleshy texture and lean and taught acids. There’s a fine, elegant bitterness from phenolics, which also helps to dry out the palate.

Vineland Estates 2013 Dry Riesling Vineland Estates Riesling Semi Dry VQA 2013 No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver Cave Spring Estate Riesling 2012

Château des Charmes 2012 Riesling Old Vines, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($16.95). This wine captures the richer style of riesling from the warmest part of Niagara (mostly St. David’s Bench fruit), widely appealing in the fuller and broader riesling category.

Cave Spring 2012 Riesling Estate, Beamsville Bench ($17.95). A very fine vintage for this reliable wine, ripe and verging on exotic, even if winemaker Angelo Pavan doesn’t use any aroma-enhancing enzymes, believing that it sacrifices too much texture (enzymes split sugars and make them unavailable for fermentation and hence glycerol/alcohol production).

Top Escarpment/Bench Sites: A Glassful of Limestone

Tawse 2012 Carly’s Block, Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95). From Tawse’s oldest riesling block planted in 1978, this is one of the top Rieslings of the vintage in my view. Considering its track record, this should age beautifully – I’d revisit after 2016 for maximum enjoyment.

Tawse 2012 Quarry Road Vineyard, Vinemount Ridge ($23.95). Quarry Road is on top of the Niagara Escarpment, planted 50-50 with Clone 49 and Weiss 21. I’ve tasted the 2012 a couple of times now, and the wine seems to be gaining in tightness and freshness, amazingly enough. Relative to the Carly’s Block, this is a tight and angular expression, though the balance is pitch perfect.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2012 Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2010 Fielding Estate Lot 17 Riesling Fielding Vineyard 2013

Cave Spring 2010 CSV Riesling, Beamsville Bench ($29.95). Another Niagara classic, the CSV is always built to age. It’s one of the broader and fuller styles of Ontario riesling, and the 2012 reflects both the later harvest (full ripeness) policy of the house and the warm vintage. I’d suggest enjoying this anytime over the next half dozen years.

Fielding Estate 2013 Riesling Lot 17, Beamsville Bench ($27.95). From 17 rows of the oldest riesling on the estate planted in 2000 with clone 49, this is very pear-driven, off-dry, zesty and crisp, though edging to a drier style with each vintage it seems. It’s the finest riesling from Fielding to date.

Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Wood Post ($30); Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Steel Post ($30); Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Triangle Vineyard ($30). Here’s a chance to do a perfect side-by-side comparative tasting of three different vineyards all made in the exact some way, all from the estate vineyards on the Beamsville Bench, from vines of approximately the same age. Thirty Bench has done in-depth studies on their terroir and there are indeed measureable differences, so it’s not just your imagination.  See if you can pick up the The “Wood Post’s intriguing herbal-pine needle nuances, the Steel Post’s perfect pitch and green apple citrus-lime character, and the richness of the Triangle Vineyard, the most forward and generous of the series.

Thirty Bench Small Lot Wood Post Riesling 2012 Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard 2012 Thirty Bench Small Lot Triangle Vineyard Riesling 2012Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling 2012Back 10 Cellars The Big Reach Riesling 2012

Top Lakeshore/Niagara-on-the-Lake Rieslings – The broader, fuller styles

Trius 2012 Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling, Four Mile Creek ($25). Ghost Creek is one of the original Hillebrand vineyards planted in the 1980s, though this hails from a more recent planting with clone 49. The vineyard sits on an old, very stony, dried up creek bed with shale and limestone and thus good drainage. The 2012 is a full and fleshy, ripe and substantial wine, one of the best from the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation.

Back 10 Cellars 2012 The Big Reach Riesling, Lincoln Lakeshore ($25). The Back Ten Cellars vineyard sits on heavy red clay soils in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation, in which yields of a measly 2 tons per acre are considered successful. For this wine only free-run juice is used. It’s quite a broad and full wine with evident concentration, denser and more compact than Bench Rieslings.

Vinemount Ridge – for acid Freaks

Charles Baker 2012 Riesling Picone Vineyard, Vinemount Ridge ($35). From now 35 year old vines in this vintage, the 2012 is rivetingly tight and pure, concise and focused, in my view the finest Picone Vineyard riesling to date, even after the excellent 2011.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver

Flat Rock Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2013

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012Flat Rock Cellars 2013 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($19.95). Nadja’s vineyard was planted in 2000, a two-ha parcel just under the top of the Escarpment and Flatrock’s coolest site, ripening up to two weeks later than the parcel below the winery. This is fragrant and pretty, lean and tightly wound example of Niagara Riesling.

2027 Cellars 2012 Falls Vineyard Riesling, Vinemount Ridge ($25). Falls vineyard is 2027 Cellars’ tightest and most riveting riesling, true to sub-appellation, with significant minerality.

The Stylistic Outlier

Pearl-Morissette 2012 Riesling Cuvée Foudre “Black Ball”, Twenty Mile Bench ($25). This wine is not yet released and it remains to be determined whether it will be labeled as VQA Riesling, or VQA at all, as François Morissette tells me it has already been rejected twice by the VQA tasting panel, even though it has past the laboratory analysis and been deemed chemically stable. (It was also rejected in past vintages, which is the origin of the cuvée name “Black Ball). In any case, it doesn’t fall into any known model of Ontario riesling, being at once fully dry with malolatic fermentation fully finished, and aged in large old foudres from Alsace and bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal sulphur. It’s a wine of texture more than aromatics, and you’ll need to think along the lines of other stylistic outliers like, say André Ostertag in Epfig or Clemens-Busch in the Mosel, to really get this.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Remember, however, that to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


 

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Winemaker’s Dinner with Award Winning Inniskillin Wines (Ottawa)

WineAlign is delighted to present a multi-course dinner with each course expertly paired with the award-winning wines of Inniskillin on Thursday, May 1st in Kanata. 

Rod Phillips

Rod Phillips

Join us for an exclusive dinner at Graffiti’s Italian Eatery in Kanata with winemaker Bruce Nicholson, as he guides you through a select offering of Inniskillin wines, each paired with a specially prepared gourmet dish. Bruce will speak about the unique viticulture and terroir of the Niagara region and talk about some of the history behind one of Niagara’s most iconic wineries.

Bruce will be joined by Rod Phillips (WineAlign, Ottawa Citizen).

Event Details:

Date:  Thursday, May 1, 2014
Location: Graffiti’s Italian Eatery, Kanata
Reception: 6:30 – 7pm
Dinner: 7:00pm – 9:30pm
Tickets: $40.00 (plus taxes and fees)

Please note tickets are limited, so book early to avoid disappointment.

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Purchase Your Tickets Here

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Each course is paired with an Inniskillin wine.

Baby Arugula, figs, prosciutto, goat cheese, reduced balsamic vinaigrette.

Crispy Blue crab cake, mango relish, and shaved fennel.

Seared duck breast with roasted parsnip, shallots, potato and heirloom carrots in a tarragon and orange glaze.

Fresh fruit Martini with Chocolate Almond Biscotti

*There are no substitutions*

 

About Bruce Nicholson:

Bruce Nicholson

Bruce Nicholson, Winemaker, Inniskillin Niagara

Bruce Nicholson joined Inniskillin Wines, Niagara-on-the-Lake as Winemaker on January 1, 2007, after an outstanding career in the Okanagan where he was Senior Winemaker for Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate in British Columbia.

Born and raised in Ontario’s leading wine region, the Niagara Peninsula, Nicholson was intrigued by the winemaking industry from an early age. After studying Sciences at Ontario’s Ryerson University and University of Windsor, Nicholson apprenticed in winemaking in Niagara before heading out to Western Canada. Ironically he approached Inniskillin Co-Founder Karl Kaiser in his first attempt for a job in the Niagara wine industry. As fate would have it, that job did not materialize, and now Nicholson has come full circle to lead Inniskillin’s winemaking team following Kaiser’s retirement in 2006.

Recognized for his broad skills and talent, Nicholson was selected to lead Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Winery in 1993, and has since been credited for creating its award-winning Okanagan VQA wines. He has gained considerable recognition in the international arena as well as leaving an indelible mark in the history and growth of the British Columbia wine industry.

When the opportunity presented itself, Nicholson was eager to apply his experience and skills in Niagara leading the Inniskillin Winemaking Team which includes Assistant Winemaker Marc Pistor and thirty year veteran Cellar Master J.R. Patterson. Nicholson’s wines are both distinctive and defined. He is dedicated to his career goal of staying true to the individual characteristics of the varietals while ensuring that it reaches its maximum potential. He pays attention to both the Science and the Art of winemaking, commenting, “I enjoy working with the good acidities here in Niagara and I believe the potential is endless.”

About Graffiti’s

SEE and BE SEEN at the newly refreshed Graffiti’s Italian Eatery, conveniently located in the Holiday Inn Kanata. The ideal choice for breakfast or casual fine dining for lunch or dinner, Graffiti’s is perfect for special occasions or meeting friends and colleagues. Featuring modern italian cuisine, Graffiti’s offers a variety of “Venetian inspired” menu selections, including our clay oven fired gourmet pizzas and focaccia flatbreads, tantalizing pastas, plus a full range of entrees including Black Angus beef selections.

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Note: Our winemaker events have been consistently and quickly selling out.  If you are interested in attending then we advise you to purchase your tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

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Vintages Preview for April 12th 2014 (Part One)

Dried Grape Wines Back in the Spotlight
by John Szabo, with notes by Sara d’Amato

Judging by the recent flurry of releases, first from Ontario (see the February 15th release) and now from Italy, appassimento wines – made from grapes partially dried before fermentation – are a hot commodity. April 12th puts the Veneto, the world’s reference region for dried grape wines, in the spotlight, with VINTAGES offering a competent selection of both traditional and modern styles of ripasso, Amarone and other IGT blends. I offer a half-dozen recommended wines, including three Amarones, loosely categorized by style. Sara d’Amato adds her picks, and we have dug up a handful of Ontario examples still in stock at VINTAGES. The rest of the highlights for the April 12th release will reach your inbox next Thursday.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The Veneto region in Italy’s northeastern corner is the epicenter of production of appassimento wine. The term, derived from the Italian verb appassire, to wither or dehydrate, refers to wines made from grapes that are partially dried before being pressed and fermented. Cassiodoro, minister to King Theodore of Ravenna (in today’s Emilia-Romagna), described the technique in meticulous detail in the early 6th century, and the wine he references, acinaticum, is the archetype for today’s Recioto della Valpolicella.

Cassiodoro recommended hanging grape bunches on metal hooks from the rafters in a draughty barn, ensuring that each bunch was kept separate and well ventilated, lest unwanted rot set in. But while this romantic image of withering grapes in old barns with open windows may still be conjured up by the mention of Amarone or Recioto, modern appassimento methods resemble more research laboratory than medieval farmhouse.

Appassimento from Sordato.it

Appassimento from Sordato.it

Speak to Amarone producers today and they’ll tell you about dehydration and metabolic kinetics, and the interaction of withering time and speed on wine composition. The metabolic changes that occur during drying – malic acid degradation, oxygen consumption and CO2 production, the formation of various alcohols, acetic acid and aromatic compounds like terpineol (floral, lilac perfume) are far better understood than Cassiodoro could have ever fathomed. Most estates have laboratory-like temperature and humidity controlled drying rooms, with ventilators that run continuously, not just when the evening breezes pick up, so that precise characteristics can be sought. Such a highly prescribed appassimento process yields a much cleaner, more reliable product than even just a few decades ago, with far less loss due to rot and other cryptogrammic diseases. Amarone drinkers rejoice, unless of course you had a penchant for the funky old days.

Here in Ontario, appassimento is gaining in popularity, with at least ten wineries now experimenting with dried grape wines, as well as one each in Nova Scotia and Québec. These numbers will surely swell when The Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University reveals the results of an ongoing, in-depth research project in partnership with industry to evaluate and compare different appassimento techniques, now in its 4th of five years. Ontario may be poised to become the second epicenter of appassimento.

CCOVI Greenhouse

CCOVI Greenhouse

Using cabernet franc from one vineyard, CCOVI is comparing the results of drying grapes (to 26º and 28º brix) in a barn with windows and fans (at Cave Spring), in a re-purposed tobacco kiln with a propane heater and fans (at Reif Estate), in a greenhouse (European Planters in Niagara-on-the-Lake) and using a specialized drying chamber developed by Vineland Research Station CEO Jim Brandle and bio-systems engineer Bernard Goyette in conjunction with Graham Rennie of Rennie Estates and John Young of Kew Vineyards and Angels’ gate.

A trial was also initiated this year to answer the age-old question of whether noble rot (botrytis), at least in small percentages (up to 10%), is desirable, while a promising yeast strain, isolated at Brock from the skin of Icewine grapes, is being tested to see if levels of acetic acid and acetone – two regular but unwanted features of appassimento wines – can be naturally reduced.

Sensory evaluation of the resulting wines is underway and will be compared to the wine made from control grapes left on the vine to ripen to the same level, as well as to wine made from the same fresh grapes.

“It’s already clear that each technique brings different results”, says research director Dr. Debbie Inglis. “Even grapes dried off the vine continue to undergo biochemical activity, meaning that there’s more than just dehydration (water loss) going on”. Glycerol increases and acids decrease at different rates according to treatment, and each variety will surely bring its own set of curves to the graphs.

In the end, CCOVI’s goal is simply to quantify the differences of the various techniques, not to say which makes better wine or which grapes to use. “We will give winemakers the information of what happens and how much it costs so they can decide which works best for them. It’ll be up to the industry to determine which style of wine they’d like to pursue” continues Inglis.

COVVI is also in discussions with the VQA technical committee, with the ultimate goal of assisting in developing industry standards, though anything formal is still years away.

In the meantime, get your appassimento fix with these recommended wines from the ancestral home, coming to you on April 12th at VINTAGES.

Traditional Style

Think of these as the more savoury, rustic, earthy styles, for fans of traditional European wines.

Bertani Villa Novare Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2010 Michele Castellani Colle Cristi Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008Brigaldara Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2009 2009 Brigaldara Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico ($49.95). The Cesari family purchased the villa and surrounding lands that is now Brigaldara in 1929, though wine has only been made here since 1979. The sensibility is, however, firmly old school, as this dried fruit, nuts, herbs and pot pourri-scented Amarone reveals. There’s even a pleasantly earthy, underbrush/dried peach note reminiscent of late harvest/botrytis affected wines (possible?), nicely balanced by the typical bitter dark chocolate flavours of classic Amarone. Not at peak yet to be sure, this should hit full stride within the next 5-7 years or so.

Michele Castellani 2008 Colle Cristi Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico ($45.95). This is a relatively light and delicate, savoury, old school example of Amarone from Castellani’s Cà del Pipa vineyard in the heart of the Classico appellation, with loads of charm and great balance. Tannins are fine and dusty, almost but not fully resolved, so tuck this away for another 2-4 years minimum for maximum enjoyment.

Bertani 2010 Villa Novare Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore ($19.95). Bertani, formerly known as Villa Mosconi, is credited with labeling the first bottle of Amarone in 1940. It’s not surprising then that this storied house produces an arch-traditional example of ripasso, and all the more complex and interesting for it. The palate is firm and juicy, wonderfully balanced, coming across as neither excessively raisined nor simple and fruity – the way old school ripasso should be. Best 2014-2020.

Balancing Tradition with Modernity

These wines manage a fine balance of clean, bright fruit alongside more traditional savoury flavours in a style that should appeal broadly.

Zeni Costalago 2012 Tommasi Crearo Della Conca d'Oro 2010 Zenato Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2009 Zenato 2009 Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico ($49.95). Zenato’s Amarone offers substantial caramelized fruit, herbal liqueur, bitter chocolate and spent coffee ground type flavours – in other words, complexity comfortably above the average, while the palate is thick, rich and viscous, densely knit, with superior concentration and length. Overall this is a fine bottle of wine, which will continue to evolve and improve over the next 4-7 years no doubt, and hold into the late ’20s without a stretch.

Tommasi 2010 Crearo Della Conca d’Oro ($19.95). Though labeled as an IGT Veronese, this wine hails from the heart of the Valpolicella Classico zone in what’s referred to as the Conca d’Oro, the golden amphitheater with its volcanic clay soils referred to locally as crearo. It’s the addition of cabernet franc to classic corvina and local oseleta that takes this out of the traditional appellation. In any case, the wine is quite fine, fresh, supple, succulent and balanced, with a fine mix of both fresh and raisined fruit, dried herbs and flowers and gentle baking spice. Complexity is above the mean, and I’d say this will continue to evolve and gain interest over the next 2-4 years and beyond. Best 2014-2020.

Zeni 2012  Costalago, IGT Rosso Veronese ($15.95). Of the entry level appassimento wines on offer this release, this blend of corvina, corvinona, plus cabernet and merlot is the smartest buy. It’s a nice mix of modern and traditional, fresh and gently raisined fruit, retaining an inviting liveliness and juiciness. Length and depth are modest, though appeal is broad. Best 2014-2017.

Sara’s Appassi-Picks

Tenuta Sant’antonio 2010 Selezione Antonio Castagnedi Amarone Della Valpolicella ($43.95). Four brothers, 50 hectares of vineyards and a heck of a lot of experience are responsible for this very good value Amarone named after the late Castagnedi patriarch. Here is a wine with the structure, presence and intensity you would expect from a wine of this style. Put away for another 3-5 years for best enjoyment.

Monte Zovo 2011 Sa’ Solin Ripasso Valpolicella ($17.95). A polarizing wine – ripe and rich but with more depth that character than immediately meets the tongue. I absolutely loved the notes of cherry, bramble, sandalwood, dried leaf, tobacco, plum, and wild blackberry that came to life on the palate. Its long, smoky finish proved sensual and compelling. I’ve tasted this vintage twice now over the span of two years and continue to derive great enjoyment from its lush and penetrating flavours. At this price, it is worth a gamble.

Tenuta Sant'antonio Selezione Antonio Castagnedi Amarone Della Valpolicella 2010  Monte Zovo Sa' Solin Ripasso Valpolicella 2011 Tedeschi Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2009  Zenato Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore 2010

Tedeschi 2009 Amarone Della Valpolicella ($39.95). Tedeschi’s style has been on the thick and sweet side of the Amarone as of late and certainly modern. I tend to shy away from this overt and filling style and so I was delightfully surprised to taste this latest incarnation from the 2009 vintage. It is bold and appealing but also feminine, floral and with a plethora of distinct flavours that can be progressively discerned. Widely appealing and deservedly so.

Zenato 2010 Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore ($25.95). Finally, Zenato’s Ripassa struck a chord with me. This is an expensive Ripasso, as the style goes, but one which consistently over-delivers for the price. The elegant vintage showed some real restraint on the palate and a judicious use of oak that was quite welcome among many flaming examples in this feature. A smart buy.

Ontario’s Appassimentos

The following appassimento reds made in Ontario are also still in stock at VINTAGES. Click the links to read full reviews.

The Foreign Affair 2011 Dream, Niagara Peninsula ($28.95)

The Foreign Affair 2009 Temptress, Niagara Peninsula ($44.95)

The Foreign Affair 2012 The Conspiracy, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

Burning Kiln 2012 The Strip Room Merlot/Cabernet Franc, Ontario ($24.95)

Marco Piccoli, Jackson-Triggs

Marco Piccoli, Jackson-Triggs

Speaking of Ontario, you might want to buy one of the few remaining tickets for this week’s Winemaker’s dinner. David Lawrason and Jackson-Triggs winemaker Marco Piccoli will guide you through a select offering of Jackson-Triggs wines, each paired with a specially prepared gourmet dish at EPIC restaurant in Toronto. Marco will speak about the unique viticulture and terroir of the Niagara region and talk about some of the history behind one of Niagara’s most iconic wineries. Find out more here.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

From the April 12, 2014 Vintages release:

Wines of Veneto
All Reviews

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!


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Ontario Wine Report: Cuvée 2014 and Brock’s Experts Tasting

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

Cuvee 2014Set 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 . . .

Cuvee 2014It’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.

Cuvee 2014Lakeview 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.

Cuvee 2014Domaine 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.

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

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.

Brock's Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute Experts TastingThe 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!


 

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages January 4 Release

Must Buy Reds Under $20, Ontario Winners, Welcome Leaning Post

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The first release of 2014 comes awfully early. It’s even more difficult considering the average quality therein, which is a normal occurrence in January it seems. To be fair, I have not yet tasted all the wines, and I will be finishing off next week and posting the missing notes. But so far among VINTAGES “Smart Buys” there are no really smart buys. Elsewhere in the catalogue however things improve. There are some “must buy” reds under $20, a strong contingent from Ontario, and some excellent to outstanding expensive “Flagship Store Exclusives”. And I bring you news of Leaning Post, a great new little winery that has opened its doors in Niagara.

Must Buys under $20

Domaine Tournon Mathilda Shiraz 2011, Victoria, Australia ($19.95). You may still spy stray bottles of the 2010 vintage on the shelves, which is equally good. This is a high-strung, biodynamically grown, northern Rhône styled shiraz from the inland hills of Victoria. What makes this wine so vital and in some ways intriguing is that there is no barrel ageing involved – the straight goods, edgy and authentic. Domaine Tournon is a project by Michel Chapoutier of the Rhône Valley, one of the star winemakers who will be attending the 2014 Vancouver International Wine Festival at the end of Feb.

Domaine Tournon Mathilda Shiraz 2011Zonte's Footstep Avalon Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Monte Del Frá Bardolino 2012Zonte’s Footstep Avalon Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Langhorne Creek, South Australia ($17.95). This is from a vineyard on the shores of Lake Alexandrina at the mouth of the Murray River. From here it’s a hop, skip and jump to the Southern Ocean, indeed salt water once and still occasionally backs into the fresh water lake through a narrow channel. I mention this because of a saline scent I pick up in this otherwise surprisingly rich, vibrant and long finishing cabernet. The winery website addresses this flavour length by saying “This wine hangs about after you have tasted it for so long it seems almost self-defeating”. We’ll let you ponder that awhile.

Monte Del Frá Bardolino 2012, Veneto, Italy ($13.95). At this price I will personally be buying a few bottles of this lovely, fresh and mellow red to sock away for summer al fresco drinking. It is sourced from sloped, moraine soils above Lago di Garda near the village of Custoza. The winery controls over 140 ha in the region, paying attention to “agronomic (organic)” practices and going for lowish yields to extend flavour depth. This is a true bargain.

Niagara Buys

Malivoire Guilty Men Cabernet Merlot 2011Flat Rock Riesling 201213th Street Merlot 201213th Street Merlot 2012, Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95). In my opinion this is one of the best reds yet made at 13th Street, and it cranks up my anticipation for the 2012 Niagara reds still to come. It is looking to be a truly fine vintage, not just a hot/ripe one. The fruit was healthy and naturally balanced, which Jean Pierre Colas chose to celebrate by avoiding oak barrel ageing altogether. Good call!

Flat Rock Riesling 2012, Twenty Mile Bench ($16.95). Here again the 2012 vintage seems to have imparted a fine natural balance and pitch perfect ripeness, both accentuated by judicious acid-sugar balance in this barely off-dry riesling. Flat Rock has been around long enough (since 1999) to have found the handle with its maturing riesling vines. Even better the price is terrific. Great value here.

Malivoire Guilty Men Cabernet/Merlot 2011, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95). The soft touch of winemaker Shiraz Mottiar – aided by the gentle gravity flow production system – has created a light but charming young red that will drink well over the next three years or so. It’s good to see a 2011 Niagara that is not too green.

Great Red Flagship Finds

The following more expensive wines will only be found at VINTAGES larger “flagship” stores. This year the In-Store Discovery program of limited, unheralded release of small purchase wines morphs into the somewhat less enigmatic Flagship Store Exclusives program. Same idea; small lot purchases only available at the larger stores. See the complete list of wines and stores at: Vintages.com.

J. L. Chave Selection Offerus Saint Joseph 2011Punset Barbaresco 2008Kistler Pinot Noir 2011J. L. Chave Selection Offerus Saint-Joseph 2011, Rhône Valley France ($33.95). Great value in classic northern Rhône syrah from a family winery that has made wine since 1481, among the oldest lineage in France. The secret to Chave’s much heralded success appears to lie not so much in individual sites, but uncanny blending abilities. Offerus appears to be from more than one source in St. Joseph, a steep appellation Chave is rebuilding one terrace at a time.

Punset Barbaresco 2008, Piedmont, Italy ($52.95). This estate in Nieve has been in the Macarino family for decades, with Marina Macarino taking over in 1987 and moving the production to organics. This is a terrific wine indeed, a fine composite of classic flavours and structure without giving into nebbiolo’s penchant to be austere.

Kistler Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley, California ($79.00). This is pricier than many might want to pay for California pinot but it is an exciting wine. This winery is best known for its pioneering work with chardonnay, but it is ramping up Sonoma pinot with four separate vineyard bottlings. This is the more basic Russian River composite, but it brushes with outstanding 95 point quality. Great energy here!

Leaning Post Opens its Doors in Niagara

Before Christmas I paid a visit to Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at their newly-opened Leaning Post Wines on Road 8 in Winona, and in a word – bravo! A new premium, terroir-focused winery is born in Niagara!

Leaning Post Wines - Open for Business

Ilya and Nadia Senchuk
Open for Business!

I was going to say a new label, but Senchuk has been producing Leaning Post as a “virtual label” since bottling his first (superbly evolving but sold out) 2009 riesling. The tiny production of riesling and pinot noir was being made at A Foreign Affair, where he is still involved, but in 2012 he moved his Leaning Post production into the re-fitted 1864 barn on his property in Winona, across the road from Puddicombe Farms. And the range expanded to include chardonnay, merlot and a soon-to-be released syrah, all from carefully purchased, single block fruit. “My goal is to expose the intriguing terroir-based differences within Niagara” he said.

Senchuk has also planted his own eight acres of pinot and chardonnay behind the barn this year on three metres of sandy, gravelly soils over a clay base. The site lies at the western apex of the Lincoln Lakeshore appellation where the distance between the lake and the escarpment face is a mere 1.5 kms, making it “very breezy” says Senchuk, which is handy for reducing rot and mildew in humid Niagara. The property is actually the easternmost within the city limits of Hamilton, and metres away, across the line in Grimsby, rises a new 150-home subdivision. “Nice of them to build a market for my wines right next door” he said, “I have already had future neighbours drop in to say how delighted they are to have a neighbourhood winery”.

Some may remember CCOVI grad Ilya Senchuk as the assistant winemaker at Daniel Lenko in his early days from 2002 to 2009. After a brief stint at Te Kairanga in New Zealand he returned to Niagara to take lead of the appassimento-driven winemaking at A Foreign Affair. And although he still thinks the appassimento style (concentrating flavours by drying grapes) has its place in Niagara for certain varieties, it is not a process he thinks applies to his pet grapes – pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling.

Ilya Senchuk

Ilya Senchuk, Winemaker

The Leaning Post Chardonnay 2012 ($35) is from the Foxcroft Vineyard in the Twenty Mile Bench appellation. Senchuk avoids racking or lees stirring his chardonnay, and the result here is a big, bright and quite powerful example with strong fruit and oak components that, in my opinion, need more integration. But the acid structure and weight are impressive.

He took a bit of a flyer with a Leaning Post Merlot 2010 sourced from the McLeary Vineyard in Twenty Mile Bench. It aged almost two years in barrel while Senchuk waited for it to “do something”, and he was thinking of selling it off. But it bloomed recently into a remarkably right-bank Bordeaux-like merlot of both finesse and power.

But clearly his primary passion is pinot noir. To date most of his pinot has come from the Lowrey Vineyard at the base of the St. David’s Bench adjacent to Ravine Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This is one of the warmest pockets in Niagara, and the Lowrey family of Five Rows Craft Winery have been growing pinot here for over 25 years, selling much of their production to enthusiasts like Senchuk. The Leaning Post Lowrey Pinot Noir 2010 ($38) is moving toward prime with intriguing dried herb complexity and a quite broad yet well-structured palate. The 2012 is similar if more poised, lying in barrel beside a lighter, juicier, berryish pinot from a vineyard in the cooler Vinemount Ridge appellation. Both will be released in the next month or three. He was contemplating whether to pull them out of wood as we spoke.

Senchuk is also a big fan of syrah in Niagara, and argues that Niagara is not as “cool climate” as popular opinion suggests, and that it is indeed a fine place for syrah. The stunning Leaning Post 2012 Syrah ($40 range) is ready for bottling to make his point, and will be reviewed and rated on release.

A trip to the winery at 1491 Hwy 8 in Stoney Creek, only ten minutes beyond the Burlington Skyway at the Fifty Road exit, is the surest way to purchase the wines, but they are also available via their website at LeaningPostWines.com. And you may find them in certain Ontario-wine friendly restaurants like Canoe and the Farmhouse Tavern in the Junction.

That’s it for the first release of 2014. In the next week or two watch for WineAlign reports on an Australian promotion at the LCBO, as well as a report on the Wolf Blass Cabernet Classification tasting that saw six WineAlign critics assemble in Montreal to blind taste the world’s top cabernets including all the 2009 First Growth Bordeaux.

All the best in 2014.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Editors Note: You can find David Lawrason’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!

From the January 4, 2014 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

Winery photos courtesy of Leaning Post Wines on Facebook


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 Villa Maria Private Bin East Coast Gewürztraminer 2012

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VQA Wines to be sold at Farmer’s Markets

A small step towards loosening the tight regulatory environment…

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The Ontario Government announced this week that it will begin to allow sales of VQA Ontario wines at farmers’ markets across the province. Kathleen Wynne, Ontario Premier and Minister of Agriculture and Food, has been the impetus behind the move. “I’m committed to supporting this innovative industry and I encourage consumers to choose Ontario wines first. They’re local, they’re good for our economy, and they support good jobs”, says Wynne.

While the details of when and exactly how wine sales will be integrated into markets have yet to be determined, “anything that expands distribution is good” says Wine Council of Ontario president Hilary Dawson in a phone interview. “We don’t know the details yet”, said Dawson, “but this is happening. The Wine Council has received an official letter from the government to attend a meeting in January with responsibility stakeholders like the Attorney General’s Office and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario”.

Essentially, what is being proposed is an add-on endorsement to an existing winery license. Wineries are permitted to sell their wines from their own premises, and in some cases from satellite outlets. The endorsement would simply expand a winery’s retail channels to include farmers’ markets. Any concerns that this move may lead to illegal trading are thus largely unfounded. As Dawson points out, “I think most wineries will be diligent in following the rules since their full winery license is at stake.”

Most local wineries have welcomed the news. “We’re farmers after all”, says winemaker Norman Hardie. “Having local wines sold alongside local foods will only serve to reinforce the connection to our land. Besides, it makes perfect economic sense. The sale of local wines puts many times more money back into the local economy relative to the sale of imports”.

Michele Bosc, Director of Marketing for Château des Charmes agrees: “Any opportunity to have our wines more readily available to consumers is a good thing. We are especially keen on linking local food to local wine and farmers’ markets are an ideal setting to do so. The local food movement has become mainstream so now we have to work to have VQA wines also to be mainstream in the minds of Ontario consumers.”

Doug Whitty, owner of both a private farm market and 13th Street winery, has some experience in the matter and has likewise greeted the news positively. “At our own winery and farm market, we experience many more customers, especially young people, who seek to make this connection as they include Ontario VQA wines and local food as part of a lifestyle that is fun, healthy, educational and promotes sustainability”, says Whitty.

Other local wineries are more skeptical, however. “In my humble opinion this is a bone being thrown to small wineries who are having difficulty getting shelf space in the LCBO/Vintages stores and to appease the LCBO privatization lobby”, writes Harald Thiel, owner of Hidden Bench, via email.

Thiel would like to see a more significant change to the VQA retailing landscape, suggesting instead to reserve shelf space in the LCBO for “100% Ontario wines”, and restricting the sales of all non-VQA Cellared in Canada wines (or “CICs”, wines made from a blend of local and imported wines), “to only the dedicated channels of those wineries that benefit from that license [to produce import blends]”, a reference to winery-owned stores such as The Wine Rack, owned by Constellation Brands. “That was the original plan under the 1993 free trade agreement. 2003 was to be last year when both channels were to be available to CIC wineries”, reminds Thiel.

Even those who support the Wynne government’s announcement question the viability of selling their wines at farmers’ markets. “It’s hard to say if this is a good opportunity or not as there is so much regulatory work that needs to be worked out by the government. And we are such a highly regulated industry it is never a straight line,” says Paul Speck, President of Henry of Pelham Winery.

Doug Whitty agrees that it will be logistically challenging and echoes Thiel’s concerns: “there are significant costs to selling at farmers markets and these costs, coupled with limited days and hours available for retail operations within them, may limit participation. This announcement is welcome but it certainly does not address the continuing need for increased retail market access for Ontario VQA producers in the province.”

Among the many questions to be answered include which farmers’ markets will be eligible. “Obviously the government wants to avoid someone throwing up a fruit stand at the end of their driveway in order to sell wine”, Dawson tells me. There’s also the question of how space will be allocated at highly coveted markets like St. Lawrence, the Brickworks, or St Jacobs, which are already at capacity in any case.

Another hurdle is the fact that most markets open long before alcohol can legally be sold or sampled in Ontario. Will wine sales be prohibited until after 10am, and sampling until after 11am?

And even if sampling is permitted, Thiel for one doubts that farmers’ markets provide any real opportunity for premium wines, considering the sampling costs in relation to projected sales. There’s also a high risk of “depremiumization” of a brand. Most winery principals agree that offering samples of premium Ontario wine in plastic or other disposable cup on a hot, busy summer outdoor market day, for example, is far from ideal. And serving in proper glassware brings a new range of logistical challenges such as transporting, storing, and washing the glasses. “Can you imagine premium brands like Roumier, Pierre Yves Colin, Ponzi or Anthill selling at a farmers markets?” questions Thiel.

Additional considerations include whether a winery stall will be required to have hard walls, or other restrictions on the physical space imposed in order to control access to alcohol, whether wineries will be permitted to group together save on costs or gain access to markets, how wine will be shipped and warehoused, and whether a winery principal will be required to be on hand to sell (as opposed to a winery representative or hired worker), as some markets demand from their food farmers.

But, “let’s not make this too complicated,” urges Dawson. “Too many conditions will limit participation”.

Although this is viewed as a minor victory for VQA Ontario wine, it can be also viewed as a small step towards loosening the tight regulatory environment surrounding the sale of alcohol in the province. As Dawson points out: “if the government can feel comfortable doing this, than other changes are possible”.

Stay tuned for more details on this story in January 2014.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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Sara’s Sommelier Selections – Dec 7, 2013

Flying Solo – Wine Without Food

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

One of our many roles as Sommeliers is to match food with wine in fine dining establishments in order to enhance the experience of the diner. However, Sommeliers are employed in many different ways such as a consulting in building wine lists for new or established restaurants and bars, providing insight to private collectors about the contents of their cellars, and generally helping consumers find exactly what they are looking for to enhance every occasion.

As of late, I have had requests to both pair wines to specific occasions, but more insistently to recommend wines that can be drunk on their own – i.e. do not necessitate food pairings. Although many of the wines I have recommended from previous releases could fly solo as well, here is a list of wines that can be enjoyed outside of dinnertime.

What to look for in a wine that can be enjoyed on its own? Firstly, a wine should be optimally balanced and feel harmonious. Ratios such as acid-to-sweetness, fruit-to-oak and tannins-to-fruit should be proportional such that they match intensity and are nicely integrated on the palate.

Secondly, look for wines with smooth tannins and rounded acids. Youthful rieslings that have throat-ripping acids or tough Napa cabernets are best reserved for foods that can mellow those properties, or else they need to spend some time in bottle so that the structural components can soften and integrate.

Thirdly, and perhaps counter-intuitively for some, wines work best in an aperitif/cocktail setting if they are dry or just slightly off-dry. Sweet wines are best when paired with salty, creamy or fatty foods and occasionally fruit or desserts. On their own, more than a glass or two may result in a difficult subsequent morning or, more immediately, palate fatigue.

Fourthly, a wine should be “ready to drink”, either because it has been allowed time in the bottle to mature, or it was produced deliberately for immediate consumption (a great deal of wines on the shelf fall into this category).

Conversation pieces! Wines can be icebreakers especially if they come from lesser-known regions or are made from grapes that are less common.

The final principals are reserved for those who are entertaining or a choosing a wine for a cocktail party style gathering.

Reach for a crowd-pleasing, easy-drinking wine as opposed to something esoteric, experimental or something weirdly wonderful. Often, we critics will use this language in our reviews, which should nudge you in that direction.

The last overarching consideration is affordability! With the exception of very specific circumstances, or if you have a great collection that you would like to share, most people, especially around this time of the year, are looking to stretch their dollar and get the best bang for their buck when a larger group is involved. Fortunately, there is a good deal of selection in this category. I would particularly direct you to Steve Thurlow’s 50 Best Value LCBO picks.

Here are some suggestions from today’s release that should prove most enjoyable “seule” and the reasons for why they were chosen:

De Wetshof Finesse Lesca Estate Chardonnay 2012 ($18.95)
BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Chardonnay is an incredibly versatile variety in terms of the styles and flavour profiles it can express, where it can be produced around the world and its ability to match an array of foods and situations. It is also becoming a la mode again (and arguably, was it ever really out of fashion?) I always like to have one familiar choice in a group setting as it sets people at ease right away. In addition, Chardonnay is the ultimate comfort wine, especially when lightly oak-aged, offering a touch of vanilla, warm butter, and butterscotch to compliment the warming alcohol. You also don’t have to worry too much about temperature here as much Chardonnay can often be very enjoyable even close to room temperature. So go ahead, leave it on the counter and finish off the bottle!

De Wetshof Finesse Lesca Estate Chardonnay 2012

Saltram Mamre Brook Shiraz 2010 ($26.95)
Barossa, South Australia

Wines that are big and bold are often best left on their own as opposed to pairing with food. They risk upstaging your cuisine, whereas served solo, these wines will take center stage. The only caveat is that they can be filling so if serving before mealtime or in large quantities, be wary of this. This Saltram Shiraz consistently over-delivers – it is bold and rich but not overbearing – terrific on its own.

Saltram Mamre Brook Shiraz 2010

Quinta Dos Carvalhais Duque De Viseu Red 2009 ($13.95)
Doc Dão, Portugal

A romantic comedy on the agenda or perhaps a hopeful nightcap? Wines of the Dao are my aphrodisiac and their complex, delicate flavours are perfectly suited to appreciation without food. In addition, the wines tend to be dry, concentrated but not overly tannic, so they are ideal sans-dinner!

Quinta Dos Carvalhais Duque De Viseu Red 2009

Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc 2012 ($14.95)
Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa

When I first tasted this prior to release – I immediately described it as a crowd-pleasing aperitif wine. Well-made, friendly and flavourful but not overly challenging, it will have you or your guests pleasantly satisfied and for a price that won’t break the bank. A side party tip – drinking white wine, or even just finishing with a glass of white, can mitigate the red lips/teeth and tongue problem that is oh so apparent in lively discussions at cocktail parties.

Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc 2012

Veramonte Primus 2011 ($19.95)
Colchagua Valley, Chile

Blends! Blends are often made to create a balanced wine. Many traditional blends have been established because of the grapes’ ability to compliment each other. I was particularly fond of this lush and savory blend of carmenere and syrah, which tastes a lot pricier than the tag reads.

Veramonte Primus 2011

Wishing you happy entertaining!

Sara d’Amato

From the Dec 7, 2013 Vintages release:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find Sara d’Amato’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!


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Canada’s Wine & Food Culture: Something’s Missing

Rhys Pender, MW

Rhys Pender, MW

Admittedly, this article is a bit of a rant, a lot of head scratching, reflection and question asking, all blended with opinions. It is about Canadian wine and food culture, or the lack of it.

The Canadian wine and food scenes have come an incredibly long way over recent decades. Until recently there was no real Canadian cuisine, and the wine industry was set more on maximizing subsidies than making quality wine. Now there are  exciting, regionally driven, locally supported wine industries to be proud of in four provinces. However, in spite of this achievement, and wines that continue to climb higher and higher in terms of quality, there is something missing in wine and food culture in most of Canada (perhaps with the exception of Quebec). What is missing is where the two cultures come together, the understanding and, more importantly, the pairing and enjoying wine and food as one as common practice.

There are certainly many reasons why the culture of matching wine and food in Canada is not as advanced as in some parts of the world, but that doesn’t make the fact that culture is lacking any less disappointing. While chefs, farmers and the media have worked hard to build an enviable local-based Canadian food scene and passionate winemakers and grape growers have followed on from the hardworking pioneers to produce wines that are starting to be a real, and really interesting, reflection of their Canadian terroir, there has been very little crossover between the two fields. It begs the question why?

One might ask, isn’t this the job of sommeliers? Trained sommeliers, working across the country in restaurants, are doing their bit to help the cause, but their playing field is almost exclusively high end restaurants and clubs, circumventing most Canadians who can’t afford to eat out in top spots. The low end restaurants, where the Joe average can afford to eat regularly, generally have terrible wine lists, seemingly purchased purely on price, and staff who know little about the food or the wine they are serving. The customer, with little guidance, ends up settling for some large, uninspiring brand and the likely overall restaurant food and wine experience is unmemorable. It is not surprising then, when glancing at diners in a restaurant, to see so many tables going without wine altogether. There is no incentive to develop any food and wine culture in this environment. Contrast this with restaurants in most of Europe where even the inexpensive and casual places have staff who seem to know, at least, the local wines and wine is so part of the meal it is regularly included in the affordable prix-fixe menus.

pairings restaurantThe culture of pricing wine in restaurants also does little to encourage consumers to embrace food and wine pairing. Most restaurants choose to use a percentage markup system, essentially punishing their customers by taking higher profits as they order better wines. The result of this? Consumers will dumb down their purchases, ending up with a lesser quality pairing experience and no gains made to the advancement of wine and food culture. Could a flat rate per bottle not encourage greater interest and passion, not to mention maybe more bums on seats in the restaurant? Restaurants in most other western countries get by with much lower wine margins and seem to survive. I know I personally would eat out more often if wine was not so expensive.

The media, too, has done little to join wine and food, typically focusing its attentions on one area or the other. When trying, as so many media outlets seem to end up doing to survive, to become “lifestyle” publications, they generally end up doing a terrible job of covering both. Watching cooking shows in the United Kingdom, Australia or New Zealand, there is always a link to wine and how it pairs with whatever has just been cooked, but in North America this is a rarity.

Why is Quebec seemingly an exception to all this? It is not only the ties to the culture of the French, the famous devourers of all things food and wine, but some stronger link to and passion about their terroir. A wine and food culture is deeply engrained not just in fine restaurants but also in the home. And a true wine and food culture can only exist when it is part of daily life, not a one off experience.

The pairing culture in Quebec seems to penetrate all walks of life. Wine lists in Montreal are loaded with food friendly, crisp and mineral whites and juicy, savoury red wines that are made for the table. Contrast this with lists in much of Canada centred around big brands and big wines that are generally the worst for successful food and wine pairings. Culture can’t be forced on us and it certainly takes time to evolve. Many of the diverse cultures who settled Canada, and made it the patchwork quilt it is today, still maintain strong food traditions. Maybe, simply, it was only the Quebecers who were settled with any wine culture?

If we want to start the cultural change for Canada’s wine and food culture to develop, more needs to be done from all angles. Some of the less expensive restaurants could benefit from some consulting and staff training to get a basic, but interesting, wine program together. I think it is fair that if a server expects to be tipped then it is fair that they should know a little bit more about what they serve, both wine and food. Media needs to help bring the culture of wine and food into the home and sommeliers and educators need to promote wine and food as a part of everyday life, not some snobby form of luxury lifestyle.

The liquor laws in Canada have certainly not helped. Provincial liquor boards and licensers have somehow managed to make buying and drinking wine feel Rhys BC storesomehow morally wrong, giving the feeling that the prohibitionists are watching, looking down their noses at you. Exorbitant percentage based markups again have the effect of dumbing down the experience. This has the effect of driving the sales to the low priced big brands, those often doing little to support or care about quality driven, terroir based wines and great food and wine experiences. And the profits are usually sent out of the country to large corporations.

What if liquor boards focused their attention on interesting, high quality, hand picked wines, had a flat per bottle markup and then trained staff to be able to share information on the wines? The result would be better experiences for the customer and lower prices in restaurants. Sales of wine might increase in all channels, helping to further a culture of quality. Unfortunately the provinces are addicted to the profits rather than building any culture.

There are some positive trends, but they always end up preaching more to the already converted. Winemakers’ dinners and programs like Gold Medal Plates help to celebrate Canadian bounty, both wine and food. The British Columbia Wine Institute has launched a Perfect Pairings program to promote the best of BC, but none of these reach regular Canadians and let them see how much benefit, both gastronomically and on a larger scale of things that matter, great local wine and food combinations can bestow.

Maybe at the end of the day regular Canadians don’t care. But if they don’t, the erosion of wine and food culture will continue, and the proliferation of increasingly dumbed down wine and food experiences will intensify. Money will flow to the big corporations and small and local will become even smaller. Hope springs from mini success stories such as the rise of organic foods and success of farmers’ markets and city gardens.

The wine world seems to be going in two ways, simplified, sweet and manipulated wines are growing their market share at an alarming rate while at the same time a counter culture of quality, terroir driven and individual wines are fighting back, winning small successes. The trick is getting these stories to the masses, getting people to care and feel good both about where they are spending their money, and discovering the joy that wine and food culture can bring. The food and wine Canada is growing and making is certainly deserving of a culture around its enjoyment.

Cheers!

Rhys Pender, MW

If you have comments on this article and other thoughts on this topic please share them below via Disqus. 

 

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Sara’s Sommelier Selections – Nov 23, 2013

Living Local over the Holidays

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

As a Sommelier and wine critic, travel is part and parcel of our life. And as the holidays approach, travel is on the agenda for many of you as well. When I travel, I always bring with a bottle of something local for my host. And with all due respect to the maple syrup industry, that particular iconic Canadian product is now available almost across the globe. Something truly unique and often unavailable across the globe, however, is a piece of local terroir – a snapshot of a particular and specific time and place which evolves uniquely over time. If you’re travelling near or far over the holidays, why not bring a piece of your home to another’s? Certainly a one-of-a-kind gift!

If the price point seems a bit higher on these recommended wines, there is good reason. This week’s release is a massive collection of high-end wines from many exceptional producers making up the “Our Finest” feature. As we approach the holiday season, consumers tend to spend a little more on wines as the occasions to entertain friends and family increase significantly. Secondly, wines at this price point are often game changers for those skeptics of local products. If entertaining at home, try pouring these wines into a decanter and serving them ‘blind’ – you are certain to surprise and impress (and what better way to make for a memorable evening). As you may have heard many times, what we do best in Canada is small, scale, high quality wine production – these should be a point of reference.

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2012 ($24.95)
BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, sustainably-minded producer Tinhorn Creek has grown from humble beginnings to a 150 acre estate. Produced from relatively old gewürztraminer vines, this wine reminds me of a French woman (and pardon the generalization) who appears so effortlessly put-together. Similarly, this wine flows so seamlessly and achieves such elegant balance that it can be easy to overlook the complex layers and care that went into achieving such a result.  Highly recommended!

Food pairing: Holiday cheese platter

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2012

Stratus White 2010 ($44.20)
Niagara On The Lake, Ontario

An iconic Niagara blend, made up mostly of semillon and sauvignon blanc with a touch of chardonnay and the aromatic viognier. Serious but also intriguing, there is no denying its deserved wide appeal. As Canada’s reputation is unfortunately taking a hit in the media, it’s time to put the focus back on what we do extraordinarily.

Food Pairing: Fried risotto balls (arancini di riso)

Stratus White 2010

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011 ($32.95)
Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

A bombshell of a pinot noir – a descriptor that doesn’t often go hand in hand with such a terrific example of this varietal but this muscular pinot noir is show-stoppingly complex and quite riveting. Decant before serving as it is quite tightly wound.

Food Pairing: Pork chops stuffed with cherry and walnuts

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011

Stratus Red 2010 ($44.20)
Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, Canada

Such a terrific vintage for Niagara and for Stratus – the 2010 is possible the most impressive blend yet for this iconic winery. Although this is a second recommendation from the same winery, the dynamic duo in this release is too difficult to choose between. My colleagues, apparently, feel the same way.

Food Pairing: Beef Wellington

Stratus Red 2010

Palatine Hills Neufeld Vineyard Meritage 2010 ($29.95)
Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario, Canada

Neufeld vineyard continues to produce some spellbinding reds. This historic sloping, vineyard site, owned and maintained by the Neufeld’s themselves who have long been grape growers in the region is brought to life by winemaker Jeff Innes who has crafted a truly impressive blend from an exceptional year. All the pieces are in place to make this wine quite special.

Food pairing: Osso Bucco or Szechuan Beef

Palatine Hills Neufeld Vineyard Meritage 2010

Santé!

Sara d’Amato

From the Nov 23, 2013 Vintages release:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find Sara d’Amato’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, , , , , , , , , ,

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008