Canada’s Day is coming
by John Szabo, MS with notes from David Lawrason and Michael Godel
John Szabo, MS
WineAlign critics and invited judges are currently sifting through over 1500 entries at the annual WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in Penticton, BC, a record number. This will be the most comprehensive look at Canadian wine ever held to date, and I know we are all keen to get the latest reading on our growing industry, and uncover the very best. Stay tuned for complete results in the coming weeks.
We are also aware that Canadian wine is gaining significant traction internationally. Listings are more and more common in top US wine bars, while in the UK, the number of wineries with distribution has grown from two or three a half decade ago to nearly a dozen and a half wineries, and growing. Cracking hyper-competitive markets like London and New York is a massive coup, and confidence builder, to be sure.
But before you say that it’s terribly Canadian for vintners to need outside validation in order to feel secure about the quality of their wines, I can tell you that the sentiment is hardly uniquely Canadian. Everywhere I travel, even in the most well-established, historic wine regions, producers are desperately seeking recognition and validation of their work. It’s inherent in the nature of anyone making a non-essential, luxury, hedonistic good. So, Canadian winemakers, don’t feel insecure about being insecure. You’re not alone. And be proud of the massive strides you’ve taken in a short period of time.
For more news, read Dr. Jamie Goode’s recent WineAlign article on the tasting held at Canada House in London last month, in which Emma Finn of the Canadian High Commission reported that ‘You can tell by the buzz in the air and the record number of guests at this Canada House tasting that it’s an exciting time for Canadian producers.’ Yes it is.
Celebration-worthy Ontario Wines
So, to celebrate Canada’s birthday this year, as well as the terrific rise in quality engineered in a single generation, here are some premium local wines for the occasion.
Bubbly is a logical point of departure, and while competition has stiffened considerably in the last decade, nobody has been doing it for longer or better than Henry of Pelham, since 1999. The standard Cuvée Catherine is a reference bottling for Ontario sparkling, but step up to the top-of-the-line Carte Blanche Blanc de Blancs, VQA Short Hills Bench ($44.95). Since the introduction of this premium, pure chardonnay cuvée in 2008, it has been in the very top echelon, made from the best 30 year-old estate vineyards in the Short Hills Bench where heavier clay naturally restricts yield and berry size. Part of the finest free-run juice is fermented in old 500l barrels before secondary bottle fermentation and aging about 54 months en tirage. The 2010 vintage finds a very elegant expression, building layers of citrus and green apple fruit, delicate brioche and puff pastry-yeasty notes, on a firm acid frame. Concentration is evident, though this is all about finesse, delicacy and refinement.
Riesling has become a Niagara calling card, and the June 25th release features the excellent Hidden Bench 2014 Estate Riesling, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($23.95). It’s organically-grown and classically styled, which is to say properly balanced by bright, crunchy-fresh acids that cancel out a pinch of residual sugar, resulting in an essentially dry expression. Typical pear and citrus flavours lead, with a backbeat of florality. I’d be sipping this all afternoon.
Chardonnay remains the most bottled single variety white in Ontario (300,000+ cases in 2015) and a Niagara signature (don’t miss the annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration this July in Niagara). So there are plenty of excellent wines to choose from, but year after year I find myself captivated by the Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($35.95, winery). I love tasting the Tawse chardonnay range blind, and I’m comforted to have picked out the Quarry Road again from the line-up of 2012s. It may not be the most immediately appealing; indeed it’s a little more reticent at this stage than the Estate or the Robyn’s Block, and with perhaps less mid-palate flesh, but has the most crackling seam of acids, and the tightest fruit expression (very subtle, light citrus), and the greatest range of non-fruit (read: mineral) flavours that keep me coming back for more. I also love that the price has remained the lowest within the premium range.
When it’s time to shift into red, consider the Pearl Morissette 2014 Cuvée Métis Cabernet Franc, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($30.00, winery). Former sommelier-turned-Burgundy-trained-winemaker François Morissette has quietly been crafting some of Niagara’s most intriguing experimental wines, not without controversy, since 2007. But in 2013-2014 he appears to have hit full stride, having made an uncontestably cracking range across the board. This 2014 is a dead ringer for cultish Loire Valley cabernet franc (think Pierre & Catherine Breton), a wine of fully engaging floral perfume, perfectly ripe fruit, and the herbal twang beloved by cab franc drinkers. Enjoy with a slight chill for maximum effect.
Full-bodied red drinkers will revel in the Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($44.00), the premium bottling from one of Niagara’s most experienced winemakers, the indefatigable JL Groux with 35+ vintages under his belt. The 2012 is the best yet from Stratus in my view, an impressive Bordeaux style blend that would be equally at home in Tuscany with its high-toned, floral and dusty-herbal red and black fruit, thanks in part to long hang time, and long ageing in wood to develop complexity. The style is unique, and concentration, length and range of flavour are all excellent, with genuine depth and density on the palate. Decant this before serving.
Buyers’ Guide to June 25 Ontario & VINTAGES Essentials:
Wildass Rosé 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)
Michael Godel – Aromatically off the charts for Niagara Peninsula Rosé, like strawberry mingling with marl. Wildass strikes ruby in 2015.
David Lawrason – I continue to find the Wildass branding rather silly, and beneath the quality of the wine and winery. This is a bright, fresh and gentle rose with complex florality, cinnamon spice and fresh currant/strawberry fruit. Some sense of sweetness, but nicely bright as well. Exotic and perfumed, with very good length.
Thirty Bench 2014 Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Available as a VINTAGES Essentials. This is a riveting riesling! It sports very lifted aromas of petrol, green pear, lime and fine balsam notes. It’s light bodied (10.8% alch), off-dry taut and juicy. Another riesling that should age very nicely.
Tawse Quarry Road 2014 Organic Riesling, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($23.95)
David Lawrason – From a cool site up on Vinemount Ridge, this is a slender, juicy riesling with mouth-watering acidity. Classic lime, fresh herbs, pine and green apple on the nose; the latter really following through on the palate. There is wisp of nicely balanced sweetness. A VINTAGES Essentials.
Tawse Sketches of Niagara 2013 Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula, ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Now replacing the 2012 in the VINTAGES Essentials portfolio, the is a fine, well balanced, sipping chardonnay with fresh pear, lemon, vague vanillin and spice from a short time in barrel. Very good value.
Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($31.95)
Michael Godel – Paul Pender has indicated that this may be the last of the Laundry Vineyard mohicans. You could absolutely drink this now and also watch it slowly turn over 10 years time. Might it have been the last?
Hidden Bench 2013 Estate Pinot Noir, VQA Beamsville Bench ($29.95)
David Lawrason – I have tasted this VINTAGES Essentials often over the last six months, choosing it to represent Niagara pinot in the Canadian Wine Scholar course being held across Canada. It’s still two years away from prime, with some tannic grit, but the structure is solid, the cran-cherry fruit and oak are nicely harmonized.
Norman Hardie 2014 Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($39.00)
David Lawrason – Although not from PEC where Norm Hardie is located this elegant, tart-edged pinot shows the styling and intensity making his wines famous. It’s sleek, sour, bright with lifted cran-cherry fruit, toast, smoke and some spice. A VINTAGES Essentials.
Szabo’s Smart Buys from elsewhere in the release
Domaine Bott-Geyl 2012 Schoenenbourg Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace, France ($50.95)
John Szabo – This may be more than you’re used to paying for Alsatian riesling, or riesling of any kind, but it is truly an exceptional wine. Bott-Geyl is a young organic/biodynamic producer aiming at the top level in the region, and Schoenenbourg is an exceptional riesling site, a steep south-southeast-facing vineyard on shaley-marl and dolomite soils. This shows maturity, but also amazing perfume and complexity, offering caramelized citrus and candied floral notes, honey spice and ginger. The palate is fullish and fleshy, bone dry, intensely flavoured, with memorable length and depth – a real powerhouse that demands attention and commands respect. Drink or hold another decade.
St. Urbans-Hof 2014 Old Vines Riesling, Mosel, Germany ($21.95)
John Szabo – Germany continues to turn out top value riesling, and this is a terrific old vines Mosel from Nic Weis, perfectly pitched, succulent and juicy, genuinely flavourful in the classic register. St. Urbans-Hof is also coincidentally the origin of much of Ontario’s riesling vine material, brought over to Vineland Estates in the late 1970s. Best 2016-2024.
Domaine Roux Père & Fils 2014 Bourgogne Chardonnay AC France ($20.95)
John Szabo – The 2014 vintage in Burgundy made for more riveting wines, with less fat than the mean, but all the livelier for it. Roux’s version is nicely stony, minimally oaked, properly tight and chiselled, a classic cool climate chardonnay with an extra measure of depth and complexity all in all, and solid value at that. Best 2016-2020.
Parker Coonawarra Estate 2014 Chardonnay South Australia ($19.95)
John Szabo – John and Faye Parker established Parker Coonawarra Estate in 1985 with an ambitious plan for quality, which has not wavered since. This is a pleasantly lifted and perfumed, fresh and deftly wooded chardonnay from cool Coonawarra, with lovely acids and a fine streak of flinty reduction that runs through the long finish. For the money, this is superb wines – I love the limey flavours and acids with a touch of fresh cream.
Podere La Cappella Querciolo 2011 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($38.95)
John Szabo – Established in 1979 in the southern part of Chianti Classico by Bruno Rossini, though bottling only since 1995, La Capella is now run by daughter Natascia and quality is exceptional. Organically-farmed sangiovese is rendered in a nicely evolved, elegant, old school style, crafted with authenticity and complexity in the crosshairs. It offers lovely length and depth, not on a big frame, but rather a perfectly pitched, mid-weight, elegant frame designed for wine lovers sitting around the table. Drink or hold into the early-mid-’20s.
Domaine Michel Juillot 2012 Mercurey Les Champs Martin 1er Cru AC, Burgundy France ($45.95)
John Szabo – Based in Mercurey, Laurent Juillot is one of the regional leaders in the Côte Châlonnaise (southern Burgundy). The domaine’s parcel of Les Champs Martins was planted in 1973 with high-density, 10,000 vines/hectare, and generally yields wines for medium to long term cellaring. The 2012 is classically styled, fine red fruit and spice-scented, with no evident wood influence save for the gentle oxidation and textural development that develops best in barrel. I like the lightly stemmy-herbal character that lifts and freshens the palate; tannins are medium-fine grained, lightly dusty and grippy but sufficiently coasted by fleshy fruit, and length is excellent. All things considered, this is fine value for fans of traditional red Burgundy. Best 2018-2024.
That’s all for this week. Happy birthday, Canada.
John Szabo MS
From VINTAGES June 25, 2016
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Sara’s South of France feature
All June 25 Reviews
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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