Entering a construction zone: winecase.ca

Earlier this year, I announced proudly that The Wine Case was going to move from its wordpress.com incarnation to its own domain and location: winecase.ca. It took a little longer than expected, but now, thanks to David Honig of Palatepress, the address is now active and the posts have moved to their new location.

We’re still fiddling around with the code a bit, and I have to redo the blogroll and realign the widgets, but the essentials are there already.

For a short while, as the transition takes place, I’ll keep notifying about new posts here. But when things are fully settled, I’ll start posting exclusively on winecase.ca, which should be joined very soon by a cousin blog, foodcase.ca. Because after all, as one of my friends put it, one cannot blog by wine alone…

Thank you for your patience and, I’m sure, your enthusiasm about this evolution of The Wine Case.

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Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 2:46 am  Comments (1)  
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Ontario’s best rieslings: a collective tasting on Spotlight Toronto (and two extra tasting notes)

It’s nice when social media pushes the idea of social forward, encouraging collective thinking and group efforts. Like this Ontario riesling project that was proposed to a small group of wine writers and professionals by Rick Van Sickle, of the St Catharines Standard, and Suresh Doss, of Spotlight Toronto.

Six writers, including this guy who does The Wine Case blog, were included in the informal panel and submitted a series of wines. It was noticed, among the reviews submitted, that Cave Spring and Thirty Bench came up quite often in everyone’s lists. Discussions ensued about how to process and package the whole thing, various opinions were expressed, and finally selections were made and posted here. It’s quite a nice list, with a nice price range, starting at as little as 12$. (Why anyone would rather drink Cellared in Canada when good VQA wines are available at such reasonable prices is beyond me.)

I had two more choices in my list which weren’t included in the already long list provided on Spotlight Toronto. Wouldn’t want them to go to waste, so here they are, exclusive to The Wine Case.

Creekside Wines Close-Plant Reserve Riesling VQA Twenty Mile Bench
The folks at Creekside are at their most interesting when they get experimental – as they do with their whole Undercurrents series. This could be an undercurrent, but its steady quality, over the years, has made it a regular part of the Reserve series. Drawn from a closely-planted section of a particular vineyard (Butler’s Grant) dating back to the 80s – an experiment gone absolutely right – the wine has remarkable personality and originality. Part of the wine is aged in oak, but you don’t sense it much, as you concentrate on the clover, pear, quince and ginger ale – yes, ginger ale – that just jumps from the glass.

Hidden Bench Felseck Riesling
Owner Harold Thiele and winemaker Jean-Martin Bouchard may be focusing on Burgundy varieties, but that doesn’t mean they take other grapes for granted. Their rieslings tend to have a steely, clean feel to them, with a good mineral backbone, to which the Felseck vineyard, located just east of the winery buildings, seems to add an extra depth, along with hints of flint stone and, in the 2007 vintage, lovely flavors of pear and caramelized apples. Nice to hear they’re planting more.

Now, I’m going back to Niagara on Tuesday, and should be tasting more rieslings from Fielding and Flat Rock. And hopefully dropping by Creekside to pick up a bottle of that Close Plant. Work, work, work…

Tasting Note: Robert Mondavi 1995 Napa Valley Zinfandel

Zinfandel is like white wines: it doesn’t age well, right?

Wrong. Oh, so wrong.

IMG_4209On Saturday night, I opened a bottle of 14-year-old zin I’d pulled from the cellar a couple of weeks ago, to set it up right and make it ready for drinking on the right occasion. Which, in the end, meant pizza night on a lazy Saturday evening.

The 95 Napa Valley zinfandel from Robert Mondavi – back when it was really a Mondavi winery – opened up on an intense and well-defined aroma of sweet pipe tobacco, with some prune and spice showing up afterwards. All that carried through on the mouthfeel, where a very decent level of acidity kept the wine lively and easy-drinking, despite a solid 15% alcohol level. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was refreshing, but it certainly found its balance, and did not feel heavy at all.

Better yet, as the wine opened up, more fruit came through, as black cherry notes came to the forefront. Eventually, the wine actually smelled like the tanks of fermenting pinot noir I punched down at Closson Chase vineyards, ten days ago. As if that zinfandel still had a touch of fresh picked grapes at its core.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had solid, mature zinfandel that felt like it could keep going and going. About four years ago, I drank a bottle of 1979 Glen Ellen Zinfandel I’d picked up at the tasting room at Ridge, one of my favorite California wineries. Although it felt a bit more like an old port, in some ways, it still had balance and life to it, at a good 25 years of age. Lots of pleasure to be had yet – and it was far from being over the hill.

How’s that for a wine that doesn’t age?

While I’m at it, I could tell you about the 1998 Doisy-Daëne white Bordeaux we had with Thanksgiving dinner,  as another example of graceful aging. But that’s another story.

I’d love to see how the Anderson Ranch zinfandel from Quivira, a biodynamic winery I visited last year, during the Wine Bloggers Conference, or a Preston Old Vines Zinfandel would taste like in 10, 15 or even 20 years. From what I’ve tasted so far, I think there could be much rejoicing.

Oh, by the way, the old zin went really well with the chicken-mushroom-onion pizza. Just wrapped around it smoothly, and matched nicely with the tomato sauce. Simple food that gave the wine all the room it needed to shine.

Notes from Harvest at Closson Chase: decisions, decisions…

The last chardonnay grapes at Closson Chase vineyard, in Prince Edward County, just before they were picked on October 17

The last chardonnay grapes at Closson Chase vineyard, in Prince Edward County, just before they were picked on October 17

I know I was supposed to write more about the harvest I took part in at Closson Chase, last week, but you know what? That stuff was tiring.

For a guy my height (6’4″), picking low-lying grapes for several hours is rather tough on the knees and back. And when you follow all that picking with a couple of hours of punchdowns, where you push the cap of grape skins, pips and pressed pulp back down into the juice, along with pressing grapes, cleaning and stacking picking baskets, hydrating barrels to make sure they don’t leak and get them ready to receive the pressed and racked juice… It makes for quite a full  day.

After answering the day’s e-mails and phone calls, and following up on that day job thing, there wasn’t much fuel left for blogging.

But boy did I enjoy it. There was a great, satisfying fatigue that came with doing something that concrete and clear. To use an overused phrase, it feels real.

Anyhow, being too tired to write as I went has given me a bit more time to think about the whole process I’ve been learning about and working my way through.

On a general basis, making wine appears to me more and more as a series of minute and major decisions that all influence the final result. A lot of things you don’t control: I’m sure any winemaker working in the Northeast corner of North America would have turned the heat up a bit, over this last summer, and taken several days of rain off in October.

What you get to choose

Within that framework, however, you can take a lot of decisions that will influence the end result. How you manage the vines, yields, treatments (organic or not, agressive or not-so agressive, etc.), mowing between and under the rows, etc., all that will influence ripeness, character, health of the grapes. And thus, the taste and quality of the wine.

Once you get those grapes, you have to decide how you will press them – how quickly or slowly, with how much pressure, to get how much juice (amount of liquid to the weight of grapes), etc. – then rack them (to get gross lees out of the juice), and where you ferment them (in tank or in barrel). Knowing when to stop the press – before greener, less desirable flavors get into the juice, especially – is an important part of the process.

If you choose to age the wine in oak, that particular process isn’t a one-dimensional process, or a simple question of old vs new, American vs French (there’s also Slovenian, Hungarian, Canadian). Choosing your oak barrels is, in itself, a much more complicated question than one would think at first. Every single barrel smells diffferent, feels different, and brings its own contribution to the wine it will bring to maturity. If you narrow it down to, say, French oak, you still have quite a range to choose from.

Barrels for the 2009 harvest in the cellar at Closson Chase

Barrels for the 2009 harvest in the cellar at Closson Chase

That’s what I found out a couple of weeks before the chardonnay was to be harvested (pinot noir was already being picked for sparkling wine). That’s when I came down to start the experiment that will allow me to make a barrel of Prince Edward County chardonnay from the grapes at Closson Chase Vineyards. Since this was to be a barrel-fermented wine, the first step before picking grapes was choosing a barrel, which meant going down to the cellar with Deborah Paskus, the winegrower and winemaker at CCV, and smelling a lot of barrels, to narrow the whole thing down to one. Or two.

So I smelled all sorts of barrels: Dargaud and Jaegle, Barthomieu, François Frères, Ermitage, Damy… Some I thought were too intense, some just didn’t say much to me, and one had it juuuuust right. A touch spicy, but also very fresh and tempting. Something that, I hope, will impart character to the wine without overwhelming it. This particular Dargaud barrel was the one that seemed most likely to do so for me: I checked out two other Dargauds that each had their own character, but didn’t have quite the same aroma and feeling.

The older Dargaud and Jaegle barrel I picked for the Closson Chase chardonnay from the Western end of the South Clos, which I'll be following from grape to finished wine, over the coming months..

The older Dargaud and Jaegle barrel I picked for the Closson Chase chardonnay from the Western end of the South Clos, which I'll be following from grape to finished wine, over the coming months..

To get a sense of how different grapes from a different place would behave, Deborah Paskus also enjoined me to pick a second barrel to be used with chardonnay from older vines located in the Niagara region. A barrel from François Frères and an old Barthomieu are the two I narrowed it down to, at this point. As I’m writing this, the Barthomieu seems to be gaining an edge, in my mind.

That second barrel is likely to go back in the Beamsville Bench chardonnay Deborah Paksus also makes, but it will be interesting to follow it too.

As far as grapes were concerned, I had my choice too. From day to day, you get grapes from different sections of the vineyard, with vines of different ages showing different maturity levels, and juice that doesn’t exactly taste the same. Ater picking grapes from the East end of the vineyard, I walked down the rows, towards the West, and tasted berries, here and there, before finally deciding that I preferred what I tasted at the far West end of the vineyard.

When we pressed the grapes from that end of the vineyard, on October 18, the acidity, flavors and concentration (red delicious apple, spice) felt just right. Not necessarily better than what was picked at the eastern end of the vineyard, but just something that seeemed more in tune with what I was aiming for. And the brix was even a little higher than we expected.

Juice being collected from the Vaslin bladder press. If it seems brown, that's because it is: the winemaking process will bring it to that clear, pale gold color we so love.

Juice being collected from the Vaslin bladder press. If it seems brown, that's because it is: the winemaking process will bring it to that clear, pale gold color we so love.

I’m judging all that on instinct, of course, and have the great luck of being able to vet those choices with an experienced professional who will follow up on what I’m doing. Makes me feel a lot more secure than if I had to make all these choices completely by myself.

At this point, the juice has now been poured into “my” barrel, a 225-liter oak barrique. Fermentation should start kicking in soon. I’ll check up on it this week. Can’t wait to see where it’s at.

Harvesting in Prince Edward County, just in time for new rules on Ontario wines

I’d call that an auspicious sign. Just as I was heading to the vineyards of Prince Edward County to harvest chardonnay at Closson Chase, on Tuesday evening, the Ontario government came out with new rules governing VQA and Cellared in Canada wines.

These new rules give a push forward to VQA wines by introducing financial support – with revenue generated from a new tax on Cellared in Canada wines. They also increase the amount of Canadian wine that will have to go in the CiC bottlings, from 30% to 40%, before cancelling the content requirements by 2014. In the meantime, the grape pricing and marketing mechanisms will be reviewed, all in the hopes that by then, growers will be turning more and more towards producing grapes for VQA wines, with different varieties and better quality.

Although it will have to be seen how all this plays out over the next five years, it is a move in the right direction, and a clear signal to everyone that the future of the industry is in VQA, 100% Ontario wine, rather than in the vague and deceptive Cellared in Canada category.

I’m very happy to hear that, especially since that will allow me to concentrate on actual Ontario (and Quebec) wines for the rest of Regional Wine Week.

IMG_4195

As I’ve now started harvesting chardonnay with the whole team at Closson Chase. The grapes went through a tough late season, with very frequent rain causing an onset of botrytis that has rotten a number of bunches. The fruit that is healthy (and there is still plenty of that) tastes grate and is ripe, with yellow skins, brown pips and brown (or browning) stems. Sugars won’t be as high as, say, in the gorgeous 2007 vintage, but the phenological ripeness, which determines a lot in the flavor profile of the grapes and wines, is clearly there.

I’m very glad to get the chance to work alongside Deborah Paskus, one of Ontario’s most solid and experienced winemakers. I interviewed Deborah in January for an En Route magazine article on Canadian winemakers, tasted some of her wines, and got into a very stimulating e-mail conversation about winemaking that eventually led me to visit Prince Edward County in July. The conversation led to a business association, as the wine import agency I’m associated with in Quebec, Insolite Importation, will bring Closson Chase wines to the Quebec market. And in that context, here I am to learn more about growing grapes and making wines with someone who really knows her stuff.

Just read what Jancis Robinson recently had to say about Closson Chase chardonnays:

There’s a highly successful unoaked Chablis style called Sans Chêne as well as regrettably small volumes of an oak-aged bottling. We have served them blind to wine professionals with top white burgundies and, quite literally, amazed and astounded our friends.

You can also check out Beppi Crosariol’s September Globe and Mail article on Prince Edward County, where he reviews two of Deborah Paskus’ chardonnays, and writes about the fact that the County, as a winemaking region, is now coming of age, as vineyards are starting to mature and winemakers are getting a better sense of their terroir.

I certainly agree. While my preference and affinities go with Deborah Paskus’ work at Closson Chase, I have liked a lot of what I tasted in July (and again in September) in various other wineries. One of the very best wines I tasted was Long Dog’s 2007 Otto Riserva pinot noir, a gorgeous, young and elegant red with lots of bright red fruit, good balance and a mineral backbone brought forth by the beautiful limestone that makes Prince Edward County soils so great for wine growing.

There were a lot more. Like By Chadsey’s Cairns’ 2007 Chenin Blanc, which had the lanolin and stone fruit profile typical of that great Loire grape, on a bracing acidity that will surely temper itself well over the years. Norman Hardie’s mineral riesling and refreshing Melon de Bourgogne, Rosehall Run’s lovely Sullyzwicker rosé and very good pinot noir, Sandbank’s fresh and aromatic vidal or Huff Estate’s pleasant whites also easily come to mind.

I’d go into more detail, but I gotta run, now. The press awaits at Closson Chase, as we will start pressing the grapes picked yesterday. I’ll have more to report on that tonight. And more on Prince Edward County wines in general.

Cellared in Canada: big bottlers move to stem growing outrage

Over the last few weeks, pressure had been building nationally and internationally, concerning the deceptive Cellared in Canada wines. These inexpensive bottles, made by the country’s major wine bottlers, give a Canadian aura to blends made totally (or almost) from foreign wine brought in bulk to this country from Chile, Australia or elsewhere.

Last month, articles in The Economist, abroad, and the Vancouver Sun, nationally, were added to a long list of features by Jancis Robinson, Wine Spectator and French industry site Vitisphère, all criticizing the confusion between truly Canadian wine and foreign plonk. A half-hour segment on CBC’s The Current also contributed strongly to the debate by catching Andrew Peller president John Peller in a web of his own contradictions about the clarity (or lack thereof) of CiC labelling. While Peller insisted that the labels were clear, and that all relevant information was clearly stated, a string of LCBO consumer interviews at the end of the segment showed all of them surprised, if not angry, at learning that what they thought was Ontario wine was something else altogether. They certainly thought it was confusing and deceptive. And so did Anthony Gismondi, as he stated in a solid piece also published in the Vancouver Sun.

Facing growing public resentment, as well as growing pressure from the BC government, big bottlers Vincor and Peller met with the Vancouver Sun on Thursday to explain that they were planning changes to the labels and presentation of the wines. While Vincor president Eric Morham and Andrew Peller president John Peller insisted they never meant to mislead the public (then why all the small print on the labels, the incredible similarities between some brands’ VQA and CiC labels?), but that they are hearing the feedback and are working on new label designs.

One reason for the move might be explained by the BC government’s changing attitude towards the confusion:

In a separate interview, Rich Coleman, minister responsible for the Liquor Distribution Branch, said the LDB is on-side with the changes in marketing the wines.

“I have already told our guys to look at how it is displayed in the stores. It will be fixed.”

Coleman said Vincor, which is an official Olympic supplier, told him its Cellared in Canada wines should be re-labeled before the 2010 games begin, a sensitive issue for both the government and the winery

Here’s hoping that not only the labeling will be re-done, but also that Vincor will focus on actual Canadian wines, in its Olympic promotion, instead of products like the Cellared in Canada Esprit wine. The Olympics will be a great opportunity to showcase Canadian wine to the world, not compromise its credibility by blurring boundaries.

At this point, the decisions seem to affect only British Columbia, but it would seem normal that they should apply to Ontario as well. On Friday afternoon, I tried to reach spokespeople for Peller, Vincor and Mission Hill (in this last case, to see if the company would follow suit with the two others), to confirm whether or not Ontario is also concerned, but received no reply. I’ll follow up when I get more details about the proposed changes from the concerned parties.

One person who did reply is Seaton McLean, co-owner of Closson Chase Vineyards in Prince Edward County. Mr McLean, who has been speaking out in public – and working behind the scene – against the present Cellared in Canada situation, welcomed the new position by Peller and Vincor as “good news”, while pointing out in his e-mail message that the labels weren’t the only question at hand:

“However, there are many other fundamental elements of the Ontario Wine Industry that are dysfunctional and the clear labelling of CIC wines is just the tip of the iceberg.  So, we’ll see what happens next week and fingers crossed that it will be significant.  If there is no decrease in the 70% Chilean content a lot of Ontario growers will have a tough time surviving.  I hope that the CIC guys ultimately see how they could make themselves appear to be good citizens if they went ahead and committed to buying the aprox. 8,000 tonnes of grapes that are unsold and will make a wonderful photo op hanging there, dying on the vines, while 50,000 tonnes arrives from Chile.”

Indeed, it’s hard to see how Cellared in Canada wines wouldn’t be having a negative effect on the wine growers of Ontario, who are facing considerable drops in prices and uncertainty about the intentions o buyers, as a Globe and Mail pointed out on Friday. Increasing the amount of Canadian wine in the blended wines would seems like it could be a favorable option (content of Ontario grapes can be as low as 10%, contrary to what the Globe piece says). Especially since Vincor and Peller, while looking to improve the labels, seem to want to hang on to the word “Canada” in what is essentially a foreign product. According to the Vancouver Sun piece:

[Vincor president Eric] Morham produced mock-up labels that Vincor is considering for its Sawmill Creek brand that state in large print on the front of the bottle the origin of the wine. One option states “International Canadian Blend”. The other, “Cellared in Canada.”

Shouldn’t using the word Canada should mean having a majority of Canadian content? In any case, I find it hard to see why the bottlers would want to hang on to CiC, which has been garnering so much negative attention. Time to start fresh, and give straight answers, guys.

News flash : there’s decent wine in Michigan

As I drove through Central and Northwest Michigan, during our recent familiy vacation, I was impressed to see how many vineyards kept popping up as we drove along the roads of a region known (and rightly so) for its bounty of cherries, both black and red (my favorite). We saw dozens of signs, glimpsed at vineyards (facing all sorts of directions), passed some tiny, some ambitious tasting rooms : it was wine country all right.

We had a fair bit of driving to do, so convincing my family to stop in a tasting room was simply out of the question. But as a self-respecting wine geek, I just had to taste something, didn’t I ?

As I went shopping or food, finding substantial wine selections in the supermarkets, I admit I hesitated before buying some wine. Many bottles offered very little indication of what was in there (estpecially the « red table wine » and such), and others were… Well, they bore such ugly labels that I just couldn’t bring myself to buy them. (Really. They were that bad.)

Two Michigan whites, complete with supermarket price tags.

Two Michigan whites, complete with supermarket price tags.

Two wines passed the label test and showed descriptions that made them seem trustworthy enough. And besides, they weren’t that expensive. A little over 10$ for the 2007 Reserve Tall Ship Chardonnay by Leelanau Cellars, and just under 14$ for the Château Grand Traverse 2007 Old Mission Peninsula Dry Riesling.

Competitive prices. Competitive wines?

The Leelanau chardonnay had a fair bit of oak and a touch of residual sugar, along with decent citrus flavors. Pleasant enough, even if it felt a little “cookie cutter”. But hey. 10 bucks, right?

The Grand Traverse Riesling, on the other hand, showed a good set of fairly intense varietal aromas (citrus, mineral, floral) that showed up in the flavors as well, with a relatively light body and refreshing acidity. Oh, and it was, indeed, dry, as advertised.

Of course, this is by no means an actual assessment of what Michigan vineyards have to offer. Just a tiny sample. But it at least shows that there is decent wine to be had in Michigan. And competitively priced, too. Which is a good place to start.

Published in: on August 9, 2009 at 9:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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EnRoute in the vineyards of Canada

Since last spring, I had been impatiently waiting for the publication of an article on Canadian wines in EnRoute, Air Canada’s on-board magazine. I had reason enough to be impatient, since I started working on that project all the way back in January.

The article showcases six Canadian winemakers (plus five tasting notes of wines from other producers) from Coast to Coast : two from British Columbia, two from Ontario, one from Quebec and one from Nova Scotia. Selecting those producers from some 400 active wineries was far from easy – another list could probably have been just as valid. The selection provides a good portrait of the diversity of Canadian wine: there really is something for everyone.

Researching the piece allowed me to discover an unexpected level of diversity, and some little-known treasures of canadian viticulture. Like the sparkling wines of Nova Scotia – the closest thing to champagne I’ve tasted outside of Champagne. Or the pinots and chardonnays of Prince Edward County, the fastest growing vineyard in Canada, located southwest of Kingston, on the shores of Lake Ontario. Although I already had a good idea of the potential of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley or Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula – and had started taking a closer look at the best estates in Quebec, I was happy to discover just how much wine production keeps progressing all over Canada.

All this just encouraged me to keep going, and so in the last few weeks, I went to visit vineyards in Prince Edward County and Niagara, tasting over 200 wines in a few days through the cellars and vineyards. I’m hoping that I’ll also make it to British Columbia and Nova Scotia in the near future.

I found those visits even more encouraging. Prince Edward County, though its production is uneven – like in any emerging wine region – is already showing some distinctive character, and the best wines show remarkable finesse, elegance and mineral character. In the Niagara, I found solid, distinctive wines all over the place, with serious exploration of terroir at vineyards like Tawse, Hidden Bench and Le Clos Jordanne, creative exploration of winemaking and varieties at Creekside, Ravine, 13th Street, A Foreign Affair or Malivoire, precise, elegant work at Lailey and Southbrook, to name only these few. Beyond cabs, merlots, chardonnays, rieslings and pinots, I also tasted melon de bourgogne, chardonnay musqué, zweigelt, shiraz and even a bit of savagnin. There is less cookie-cutter winemaking, and more and more specific character and quality available.

I’ll write about that in more detail over the coming days. But at least one thing is clear : it isn’t all icewine, and it sure ain’t Baby Duck no more !

Tasting note : three wines from Ontario (Niagara and Prince Edward County)

Every time I go on vacation in Ontario, I quickly head to the LCBO to get my hands on some local wines. Since I started writing about wine, about 12 years ago – a column on Canadian wines and spirits for a magazine -, I’ve always been interested in finding out more about the wines produced in this country. And since only a small proportion of wines from the ROC make their way to Quebec, it’s always a treat to get my hands on some cuvées I’ve never tasted before.

On a quick stop by the Vintages store on Rideau Street, in Ottawa, I picked up three bottles :

  • 2006 Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot by Southbrook Vineyards, Niagara Peninsula
  • 2007 County Pinot Noir by Norman Hardie, Prince Edward County
  • 2006 Old Vines Chardonnay by Lailey Vineyard, Niagara River

Three very different cuvées, all pointing in different directions. A good thing : there is clearly something for everyone in Ontario wines.

The Southbrook Triomphe, produced by a winery that was recently certified biodynamic, scored very well at dinner with a classic lasagna. Expressive, with ripe fruit, good structure, balance and a smooth mouthfeel, with a touch of spice. Clean and neat, it felt uncluttered and easy going. It just drank itself, and thanks to a reasonable alcohol level (under 13%) that kept it fresh and open, it left us wanting more.

The following evening, the Hardie pinot didn’t fare quite as well, however. After hearing a lot of great things about Prince Edward County – one friend even wrote me that the Niagara was being completely overrun by PEC, a much superior region, according to him – and having tasted the excellent pinots and chardonnays made by Deborah Paskus at Closson Chase (I sampled them for an En Route piece on Canadian wines that will be published in the August issue), I was happy to get the chance to taste more.

The wine, clear and bright red, had some fresh cherry aromas, with some earthy notes, but felt a bit thin, when you moved from aromas to flavors. Now, I’m very pro-Burgundy, and find warm climate pinots often tiring, with their dark colors and jammy, spicy flavors. But this just didn’t have the intensity and amplitude you’d want from a pinot – especially one selling for 35$. Mind you, it didn’t have any striking flaws, either – no green flavors, no rough tannins, no off taste or aromas. It just didn’t show enough of its good things for me.

The last wine tasted was the Lailey chardonnay, which showed a very pleasant nose, with lemon, toasted almonds and toasted bread with a dab of butter and herbs, and maybe a bit of pear. The mouthfeel was expansive, substantial but still fresh, thanks to a nice amount of acidity and a twist of lemon rind giving it just enough bitterness. Flavors matched the aromas, and rolled around smoothly to a fairly long and silky finish. My only regret is that a rather nice mineral component seemed a bit smothered by the toasty and fat elements of the wine. But since everything else about this light-gold colored wine was so great, I’m willing to let bygones be bygones.

After this first stint in Ontario, this week, I’ll be returning a couple of times in the coming weeks, including stops in Prince Edward County and the Niagara region. Expect more notes to come as these trips unfold.

Everybody’s talking about natural wines – thanks, Saignée!

How do you celebrate a year of blogging? With a month of blogging, of course.

A special month of blogging, I mean. Like the 31 days of Natural Wine put together by Cory Cartwright of Saignée, one of the most interesting wine blogs around. He asked a number of other voices of the online wine world to contribute their thoughts on natural wine, every day of that feast of a month.

Alice Feiring, Jeremy Parzen of Do Bianchi, Amy Atwood from My Daily Wine, Brooklyn Guy and a bunch of others have been contributing, and it’s quite an interesting bunch of reads. Everything from a visit to Nicolas Joly, the biodynamic pope himself, to discussions of sulfur in wine, to a very… honest tasting of the latest Bonny Doon wines by Mr Saignée himself.

The series brings forward all sorts of questions about the concept of natural wines – a rather vague category that includes, depending on who you speak to, everything from sustainable winemaking to biodynamics and no-sulfur wines. In French, the moniker “vin naturel” has been more closely defined by the likes of Thierry Puzelat, Marcel Lapierre and such as no-sulfur wines (rather often made with carbonic maceration). In the US, that would be closest to “organic wine”, although the fact that sulfites must be totally absent from certified US organic wines (even the naturally occuring sulfites), making it an even more extreme category. Translating “organic wine” back to “vin bio”, in France, leads to another category altogether. And don’t get me started on the various “sustainable” winegrowing and winemaking programs established in the US and New Zealand, among others. (This Wine Business article will give you an idea of the concepts and regulations involved.)

What’s right or wrong with these categories? I’m certainly in favor of any move towards more careful, ecologically-friendly wine-growing and towards making wines whose ingredient list is limited to grapes, period. But I don’t think adding a little sulfur is a heresy, or that one single approach has all the answers. It does make for a very interesting discussion, though… More than enough for 31 days.