Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Stars of Ontario are Shining

I love the month of June in Ontario – well, more specifically, I love the middle week of June in Ontario. A few years ago, our provincial government decided that the second week in June every year would be designated Ontario Wine Week. It was a nice gesture on their part – too bad they still have tons more to do to help out Ontario wineries. To coincide with Ontario Wine Week, Tony Aspler and the Ontario Wine Awards competition holds a tasting during Ontario Wine Week to showcase the winners of his prestigious awards – now that is something to look forward to. If you are passionate about, or have ever been curious about, Ontario wines, then this tasting is definitely not one you ever want to miss.

This year, instead of being at their usual home of the Distillery District, the Sip & Savour Ontario tasting was held at the Pantages Hotel in downtown Toronto. Prior to the walk around tasting, they also held three tasting seminars focusing on three grapes that Ontario excels at making – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and, my favourite, Riesling. Each seminar was led my someone who is highly esteemed in working with the particular grape in question – Bill Redelmeier for Chardonnay, due to his efforts in organizing the Chardonnay tasting at London House back in May, Norman Hardie for Pinot Noir due largely to his pioneering efforts in Prince Edward County and Natalie Reynolds for Riesling due to her focus on Ontario Riesling at her winery, Thirty Bench Winemakers. Having already had multiple discussions with Bill and Norm over the years on their particular subjects, I took advantage of the Riesling seminar opportunity and sat in on a tasting that included two gold medal wines, one silver medal and one bronze medal winner from this year’s Ontario Wine Awards competition. Although I had never had the opportunity to meet Natalie prior to that day, I discovered rather quickly that she and I share a couple of opinions when it comes to Rieslings. Both of us prefer Rieslings made with Weis Clone 21B and both of us recommend picking up Rieslings that are under $20 because, not only are they good value in general, after a few years of proper aging, they will become something spectacular.

Of the four wines that were in the seminar, my favourite ended up being the silver medal winner – Tawse Winery 2009 Sketches of Niagara Riesling. At $18 a bottle, which was not the lowest priced wine either (in case you were wondering), and a blend of mostly Weis Clone 21B with a slight amount of Clone 49, this wine had aromas and flavours that were not overpowering but not overstated. A combination of citrus and stone fruit with a string of minerality, this wine was the most balanced of the four in the seminar. The others were either lacking something or came off too strongly – the Tawse Winery Riesling was absolutely perfect.

Now on to the main tasting – the walk around featuring the various wineries of Ontario. Although there were a lot of the regular favourites, I wanted to go into this tasting looking for wines I had never tried before or wineries I had never visited before. Well, of the twenty five or so wineries in attendance, only one winery was brand new to me so that was my first stop for the day – Five Rows Craft Wine of Lowrey Vineyards. This is a very small winery, and most of their fruit is sold to another winery, but the Lowrey family keeps five rows to themselves to make wines from for customers who appreciate a fine wine and having that extra something special to open up for friends and family. While all of the wines they had on the table were quite lovely, the two that impressed me the most were their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2007 Pinot Noir. The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was a silver medal winner in this year’s Ontario Wine Awards and it is a very well rounded, enjoyable wine. Aromas of blueberry, cherry and vanilla with flavours of jam with soft tannins and great balance. The 2007 Pinot Noir was completely different from the Cabernet Sauvignon – as it should be – but was equally delicious. Aromas of berry, earth and a slight whiff of tobacco which continues on to the palate where it shows great balance and just enough tannins to age this wine for many years if you like.

While there were plenty great white wines in this tasting, there were two that stood out that day – a white blend from a virtual winery and a single varietal from a celebrity winery. The white blend is Nyarai Cellars 2009 Trois – a blend of Viognier, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. This wine has great aromatics – not too subtle but not overpowering either – and the flavours are a delicious combination of stone, tropical and citrus fruit. It has great power and a nice, lingering finish but it is not so “in your face” that it is unbearable either. The single varietal wine from the celebrity winery was Mike Weir Wines 2008 Chardonnay. A few years ago I did an article on all of the celebrity wineries popping up in Ontario and, naturally, Mike Weir Wines were included in that article. That was before Mike had decided to change from Creekside Estate Winery and move to Chateau des Charmes and, although I did find the wines enjoyable then, there is a difference that is noticeable and quite enjoyable. This particular vintage was bright and lively, even with being slightly over chilled, and it seemed to continue endlessly. This was just one of those wines that, even if you were serving it to a wine snob who “would never” drink a celebrity wine, would even be surprised.

So, the next time you are deciding which bottle of wine to open for dinner – or with family and friends on your deck on the weekend – take a serious look at the wines of Ontario. Our winemakers are making some amazing wines and, although they may not all be available in your local wine store, all of these wineries are more than happy to deliver the wines to your doorstep…or your office desk. Cheers,
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