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…

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.

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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.

Tasting Note: Creekside Estate Winery 2006 VQA Cabernet, Niagara Peninsula

On my short vacation on Manitoulin Island, last August, I took a minute to stop by the Gore Bay branch of the LCBO to grab some wine (and a bit of cider), and chanced upon a bottle of 2006 VQA Cabernet by Creekside Winery, which I’d heard much good about in the last few months.

Among other things, Creekside scored high in the most recent Canadian Wine Awards and was a finalist for Winery of the Year.

Of course, to get a full sense of what the winery is about, (more…)

A look at the 2008 Canadian Wine Annual (the good and the bad)

A few days ago, I grabbed a copy of Wine Access magazine’s Canadian Wine Annual for 2008 at my neighborhood news stand. It is a great reference about all that is wine (and fruit wine, and cider, etc.) in Canada, from Newfoundland to British Columbia, and everywhere in between. Some 393 wineries are listed, with coordinates and a short but often very precise and useful description. Really cool and useful stuff, by qualified contributors, including articles on green initiatives in Canadian vineyards and on wine tasting and wine-food matching.

You also get the full listing of results from the 2007 Canadian Wine Awards, a competition chaired by Anthony Gismondi with, I must say, admirable restraint. Gold medals (more…)

Confusion in the Cellar(ed in Canada)

The Cellared in Canada wine category, as I’ve written previously on this blog, is a marketing category whose first aim, it seems, is to create confusion with actual wines from Canada, since in fact, it can contain practically no Canadian wine, as opposed to the 100% homegrown VQA wines. Which doesn’t stop the LCBO from selling them side-by-side and mixed together on the shelves.

Apparently, the category has reached its goal perfectly. Now, even the LCBO is confused.

As an article in the St. Catharines Standard stated, last week, (more…)

Tasting note: Hernder Estate Wines 2000 Riesling VQA, Niagara Peninsula

Last night, I subjected my dinner guests to an experiment. Nothing cruel, I assure you. On the contrary.

You see, I’ve been a fan of Hernder rieslings for many years, and five years ago, I decided to try something. Judging from the balance and ripeness I tasted, I figured that they could keep for several years. So after a visit to the Hernder cellar, I put a bottle of their 2000 riesling (the regular cuvée, not even the reserve) in the cellar, and decided to wait. Until last night.

Boy, was I ever happy to have bided my time. The nose showed a bit of petrol and citrus fruit, right on opening, but after a few minutes, it blossomed into rich aromas of beeswax and honey, pastry and flower petals. On tasting, a bit of residual sugar had matured into a (more…)