Highlights from March 19th, Taste Ontario and Cuvée
By John Szabo MS
This week’s report shines a spotlight on local wines in the wake of two big Ontario wine tastings last week. There was palpable energy at the ROM for Taste Ontario, where an impressively large contingent of sommeliers, media and wine buyers had gathered to take the pulse on the latest Ontario vintages releases. I share some of my top new picks here. The 28th edition of Cuvée also rolled out in Niagara Falls last weekend, and Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel each select three of their most memorable wines from the gala tasting.
The March 19th VINTAGES release features yet more Italian wines. And at the risk of over saturating you with vino, I’ve picked out two irresistible bargains, a red and a white both under $20. Also included is a trilogy of smart buys from South Africa that has your dinner covered from bubbles to main course, and a pair of outrageous $13.95 values from the Iberian peninsula.
Taste Ontario Highlights: 2013s and 2014s
This year’s Taste Ontario event featured mostly wines from the 2014 and 2013 vintages, with the rare early release 2015 thrown in. After the warm 2012 vintage, 2013 saw a return to more ‘normal’ temperatures on average, although with highly variable weather, with occasional disruptions caused by inopportune rains especially towards the end of the growing season.
Earlier ripening varieties fared best, and it has turned out to be an excellent year for the grapes Ontario does well most consistently, namely riesling and chardonnay, as well as other aromatic white varieties. For reds the top pinots are spectacular, refined and fragrant wines, while cabernet franc returned to its appropriate cool climate style, certainly a local strength. The harvest was the largest on record, so there will be plenty of wine to go around.
Many of you will recall the brutal polar vortexes of winter in 2014 – I recall some 20 days in February with temperatures below -10ºC, and many days well below -20ºC. It seemed like the winter that would never end (how much nicer has this winter been?) Grapes, of course, suffered, and it was a stark reminder to growers that Ontario’s climate is not suitable to the ludicrously wide variety of grapes grown here. Tender grapes like syrah, semillon, sauvignon blanc and merlot were reduced to next to zero crop in many vineyards, if not killed outright by the repeated pummelling of glacial polar air masses. Quantities, needless to say, were down sharply. The positive side is that there’s now a better appreciation of matching site to variety. Vineyards that required re-planting will presumably feature varieties more suitable to the site.
Bizarre, challenging, cool weather continued through the summer and harvest was later than normal, again favouring early ripening grapes – Bordeaux varieties, with perhaps the exception of cabernet franc, were tough to get fully ripe. Yet despite all the cruel inclemency of Mother Nature, many winegrowers managed to pull out some exceptional wines, especially whites (most of the ‘reserve’ reds have yet to be released), and to them, chapeau bas.
One thing was clear from Taste Ontario: the number of wineries producing excellent wines is clearly on the rise. Each time I turn around there’s another player with a great new addition to the Ontario wine scene, while established producers continue to maintain high quality standards.
Below are some 2013-2014 highlights:
Thomas Bachelder seems to have gotten it all right in 2013, crafting some of his best wines yet under his own label, as well as Domaine Queylus, the up-and-coming project for which he is régisseur – head winemaker and estate manager. His 2013 Bachelder Lowrey Pinot Noir, St. David’s Bench ($44.95) from a choice parcel of the well-tended and sought-after Lowrey vineyard is a gorgeous wine. After the more burly and structured 2012, 2013 conspired to yield wines of paler colour, silkier texture and more haunting perfume – this is just how I imagine Bachelder would like his pinot noir to be (or at least how I’d like them to be). This is toute en finesse, filigree and lacy, with unexpected but genuine depth and length, for fans of finessed pinot. Bravo. Best 2016-2023.
Over at Domaine Queylus, Bachelder’s Signature Pinot Noir ($29.95) is a similar though slightly more saturated garnet red, with appealing, candied red fruit flavours leading. There’s no wood influence outside of Bachelder’s trademark oxidative styling, and light tannins and moderate acids make this a wine for short to mid term ageing, best 2016-2020. The 2013 Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc ‘Tradition’ ($24.95) is likewise the best yet under this label, a lovely, floral, fragrant, lightly herbal expression well within the classic varietal idiom, attractively priced. Serve this with a light chill. Best 2016-2023.
Still in the pinotsphere, the 2013 Rosewood Estates Winery Select Series Pinot Noir Niagara Escarpment ($21.95) is a rare sub-$25 value in this rarefied category. Varietally authentic pinot at this price is hard to come by, so don’t hesitate to buy several bottles of this high-toned, floral, pot-pourri-inflected example, crafted in an appealing, gently oxidative style for immediate enjoyment. Drink with a light chill over the next 2-3 years.
Venerable Cave Spring Cellars quietly continues to make some of Niagara’s most reliable wines, and have been particularly en form in the last few vintages. Long time fans will not be surprised to see the 2014 Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV Beamsville Bench ($29.95) recommended here, the latest release of one of Canada’s most consistent and best, made from the estate’s oldest vines, the oldest of which have already celebrated their 40th birthday. It’s tightly wound and still a long way from prime drinking, but this shows classic styling, more stony than fruity, mid-weight but authoritative and palate gripping, with palpable chalky texture and great length. Revisit in 2-3 years, or leave in the cellar for a decade or more.
Also impressive from Cave Springs is the 2013 Cabernet Franc Estate ($29.95), a fine and floral, ripe and lightly cacao-inflected expression with delicate structure, lively but balanced acids and very pretty styling all around. In 1-2 years this will have fully digested its oak component, leaving a perfumed and silky wine in its place. Best 2017-2023.
Winemaker Kevin Panagapka has slowly been expanding the range of wines under his virtual 2027 Cellars label (made at Featherstone Winery). Single vineyard chardonnay and riesling are his strongest suits in my view, and 2013 in particular seems to have lent itself to his typically tightly wound, ageworthy style. The first edition that I’ve tasted of the Aberdeen Road Vineyard Chardonnay Beamsville Bench ($30.00), is just such a wine, aromatically reticent despite 18 months in wood, with loads of palpable extract and sheer density evident – a genuine, solid mouthful of wine. It has power and depth in spades, and needs another 2-3 years at least to unfurl. Best 2018-2023. For more instant gratification, track down Panagapka’s 2013 Wismer Vineyard – Fox Croft Block Chardonnay Niagara Escarpment ($22.95), a more open and notably toasty Niagara chardonnay with verve and energy. It’s a terrific value for cool climate, oak-aged chardonnay fans.
I don’t generally consider pinot gris to be a great white hope for Ontario, but the Malivoire Wine Company makes a convincing argument with the barely bottled 2015 Pinot Gris Niagara Escarpment ($19.95). It’s still a touch sulphury at this early stage, but shows excellent promise for near-term development. The palate is lively, vibrant, succulent and appealingly saline, with great acids and excellent drive through the long finish. Let it sit for another few months and crack for mid-end summer enjoyment, or into autumn.
And finally, over in Prince Edward County, Rosehall Run enters the increasingly crowded local sparkling wine market with a strong release, CEREMONY Blanc de Blanc Brut ($34.95), made from pure County fruit. It’s a well-balanced, rich and flavourful sparkling chardonnay, made from evidently fully ripe grapes with high flavour intensity, yet vibrant acids and fine tension and energy. Length and depth are superb, and dosage is well measured.
The 28th edition of Cuvée rolled out in Niagara Falls last weekend, organized by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI). For the past few editions, the Cuvée gala tasting has featured a ‘winemakers choice’ – a wine from the portfolio of each of 48 participating VQA wineries, deemed special by the winemaker him/herself. Wines were paired with signature dishes from 12 celebrated local chefs at live cooking stations.
It’s more than just a drinking-and-grazing industry party, however. Proceeds from the event go to the Cuvée Legacy Fund, which awards academic scholarships and contributes towards industry-driven research projects. “Not only does Cuvée showcase the finest VQA wines to consumers, it helps the industry continue to grow by funding valuable research and scholarships,” says CCOVI director Debbie Inglis. That’s a reasonably good cause to wine and dine, a sort of virtuous circle of investment.
Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel select three of their most memorable wines below.
Cattail Creek 2014 Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($21.95)
Michael Godel – Cattail Creek’s 1976 planted riesling is one of Ontario’s oldest blocks. In 2014 Roselyn Dyck and consulting winemaker Steve Byfield let the vintage and the old vines speak for themselves. The result is nothing short of impossible, or remarkable.
Sara d’Amato – Produced from some of the oldest, if not the oldest riesling vines in Niagara planted in 1975 and ’76. With a steely, mineral character and a subtle and slow build of flavour on the palate, the wine offers exceptional elegance at a steal of a price. Bone dry, tart but not austere, this is classic Niagara riesling.
Fielding Viognier 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($25.95)
Michael Godel – In a Niagara Peninsula discussion of what grape varieties to plant and where, winemaker Richie Roberts has more than a vested interest in viognier. If the 2013 from Fielding Estate helped decipher the code of the how, where and why, this follow up 2014 speaks at the symposium.
Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Réserve 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($44.95)
Michael Godel – It’s a tale of two vineyards, the Grand Cru of Neudorf and the upstart Queylus. Two inexorable blocks, running west to east, spoken through the lens of Pinot Noir. The middle sibling in the three that are made at Queylus is blessed with wisdom and a tale of future memories created in the here and now. So very young, it is the strongest reminder that reconciliation takes time.
Thirty Bench 2013 Small Lot Pinot Noir, Beamsville Bench $35.00 (Winery Only)
Sara d’Amato – Grapes for the Small Lot Pinot Noir were planted in 2000 and have started to produce outstanding wines. Modern, peppery and floral, this is a pinot with a great deal of charm and character. Emma Garner really shows her prowess in this impressive vintage.
Rockway Vineyards 2012 Small Lot Syrah Block 12-140, Twenty Mile Bench, $29.95 (Winery Only)
Sara d’Amato – Of the many skillfully produced syrahs that were showcased at Cuvée, Rockway’s Small Lot Block 12-140 had the perfect blend of cool climate expression and modern, fruity appeal. Sophisticated and beautifully balanced with a punch of acidity brightening the rich, spicy palate.
Buyers’ Guide to March 19th: More Italian Wine and other Smart Buys
Fans of distinctive wines should make a b-line to the ‘Other Italy’ section of VINTAGES and grab a bottle or two of the Terredora di Paolo 2014 Loggia Della Serra Greco di Tufo DOCG, Campania, Italy ($19.95). It’s an intense and characterful white, one of the best in the Terredora portfolio, and consistently one of Campania’s most impressive whites. This is all lemon oil and fresh and dried herbs, wet volcanic rock and fresh earth – distinctive to be sure, perhaps too much so to be truly widely appealing, a wine lover’s wine to be sure.
Sardinia’s version of garnacha finds a fantastic expression in the Antichi Poderi Jerzu 2011 Chuèrra Riserva Cannonau di Sardegna DOC, Sardinia, Italy ($17.95), one of the most characterful reds in the March 19th release. Revel in the spicy-earthy complexity with a whack of ripe, dark berry fruit, laced with Mediterranean scrub. A very tasty wine for the money, over-delivering in the category.
South Africa comes up big in the quality/value category, starting with the refined and toasty traditional method Graham Beck 2010 Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc De Blancs, WO Robertson, South Africa ($23.95), from one of South Africa’s sparkling specialists. It’s on the richer side of the scale, nicely mature now, with excellent length.
With the next course pull out the Vinum Africa 2013 Chenin Blanc, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa ($15.95), a wine made with care but following a more natural, non-interventionalist approach. Wild yeast, and no temperature control during fermentation shift this out of the simple and fruity category (and there’s a touch of acetic acid, but well within bounds) into a wine focused on texture, depth and extract. I’d decant this and serve at cellar temperature in large glasses alongside poultry/veal or pork – something substantial in any case.
Shifting to red, the Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof 2011 Syrah, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa ($24.95) is a classy and quite elegant, mid-weight, succulent and juicy syrah from arch-classicist Rustenberg. Tannins are firm and fine, acids lively, and the overall length and depth, and especially complexity, in the price category are impressive. It’s drinking well now, but will surely be better in 2-3 years.
And over to the Iberian Peninsula for two outrageous values from opposite ends of the style spectrum. Fans of lighter and zestier reds need look no further that the 2010 Mondeco Red, DO Dão Portugal ($13.95). This is high-pitched and floral, elegantly-styled Dão, with light tannins, designed to be enjoyed now with a light chill. But if you’re searching for a more substantial red, than the Olivares Altos De La Hoya 2013 Monastrell, DO Jumilla Spain ($13.95) is for you. This has all of the masses of bold and dark, jammy fruit and abundant oak spice that are normally found in wines at considerably higher prices. Best 2016-2021.
Attention Trade – Taste Ontario! is coming to Ottawa
For members of the trade in the Ottawa area, you will have your opportunity to explore the latest Ontario vintages releases on Wednesday, March 30th at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Please note that this event is reserved for hospitality trade and media and is not open to the general public. Register or find out more here: www.eventbrite.ca/e/taste-ontario-ottawa-trade-and-media-wine-tasting
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo MS
From VINTAGES March 19, 2016
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