Let’s Taste Ontario!

The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario hosted the annual Taste Ontario event on February 29 in Toronto. For me the event is a chance to taste and gain perspective, and perhaps set the groundwork for further investigation and writing. But I did taste some of Ontario’s great wines, and I want to present review notes on eight of these, some of which are actually available now at our LCBO/Vintages (a link is given if available). To be sure, most of these might be called “the usual suspects”, and from that perspective you could say that my selection isn’t very original. But these are wines and producers that I come back to again and again, that I hold out to others as benchmarks of excellence, and that I think must be celebrated.

One of the small trends I noticed was an increasing number of sparkling wines by producers that I don’t necessarily identify with sparkling wine, and I think that’s a very good thing. But I was particularly thrilled by one example from a producer that has a relatively long-standing tradition of making sparkling wine: Cave Spring Vineyard, with its 2008 Blanc de Blancs CSV Brut. The non-vintage Blanc de Blancs is also very good, and you can find it fairly widely distributed through the LCBO general list (link here), as well as at the winery. It is a great value at $29.95. But the 2008 vintage bottling is a tour de force that must not be missed — it was one of my absolute highlights of this tasting. The wine is available at the winery for just $39.95.

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Cave Spring Cellars Blanc de Blancs CSV 2008, Beamsville Bench VQA

Vintages #0 • $39.95 • 750ml. • 93/100
The wine is light straw with fine, persistent bubbles. The nose is still fresh and crisp, despite noteable autolytic character from the 65 months it has spent on lees in the bottle. Aromas of bread, toast and yeast, with suggestions of sponge toffee and hazelnuts, all surround a core of tart lemon, crisp pears and slightly toffeed apples, over a deep seam of chalky minerality. The wine is brut, with its high acidity masking a small amount of residual sugar that gives the wine a little breadth and generosity, saving it from austerity. What a wonderful, delicate balance of autolytic character, freshness and minerality — vibrant and enticing! Highly recommended indeed.
Tasted Feb 29, 2016 • CAVE SPRING CELLARS LTD., (Agent) • • Share Recommendation



While Ontario excels with Riesling, the best of Ontario Chardonnays have become acknowledged by many as truly exceptional. Here are four favourites that can hold their own against examples from around the world. If you don’t believe my tasting notes and evaluation, make sure that you come to i4C this summer and taste them in context. Some of these wines are currently available at Vintages.

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Norman Hardie Chardonnay Unfiltered 2013, Niagara Peninsula VQA

Vintages #184432 • $39.00 • 750ml. • 92/100
There is an immediate elegance that begins with a delicate smoky-flint element underpinning crisp lemon and apple notes that fill the nose. Brisk acidity and moderate alcohol frame the palate and carry the smoky, stony elements into a lingering finish. The wine is so balanced and pure — complex, yet piercingly direct and linear. Truly a Niagara benchmark.
Tasted Feb 29, 2016 • • Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Recommendation



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Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay - Wizmer Vineyard 2012, Twenty Mile Bench VQA

Vintages #0 • $44.95 • 750ml. • 92/100
The wine is still slightly smoky and reductive on the nose, with lemon, ripe apple and peach aromas, and a suggestion of stony minerality that cuts through the resin-vanilla notes. The wine is dry, with elevated acidity despite the warm vintage, which shows up as a richness on the palate rather than as elevated alcohol. The oak is integrating nicely, and the breadth on the palate is kept taught at is core by the crisp acidity and a layer of stony minerality. The wine was showing beautifully at this tasting, and is very drinkable now. But I'm sure it will continue improving for at least another three to five years, and will continue to hold well beyond that point. Very impressive.
Tasted Feb 29, 2016 • • • Share Recommendation



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Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, Vinemount Ridge VQA

Vintages #111989 • $36.15 • 750ml. • 92/100
The wine is almost watery white, with hints of straw. The nose is lightly reductive, with some woody resin notes still showing, but mostly it speaks of stony minerality and delicate lime and apple fruit. On the palate the crisp acidity supports the mineral and citrus core, with a slight herbal note that has a minty nuance. To my mind the vibrant minerality and slim fruit core belie the warm vintage, and reflect the cooler microclimate of the wine's origin at the top of the Niagara Escarpment. Pure and direct.
Tasted Feb 29, 2016 • • Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Recommendation



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Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2013, Niagara Peninsula VQA

Vintages #302083 • $24.95 • 750ml. • 90/100
This vintage of Thomas Bachelder's "base" Niagara Chardonnay is one of my favourites to date. The wine expresses pleasant lemon, apple and white floral notes on the nose, with a light resin and oak spice frame that is evident but quite constrained. On the palate the slightly resinous oak is more than offset by the crisp acidity, allowing the lemon and apple fruit to shape the mid palate and carry into a lingering stony finish. Very pleasant, and a very good value.
Tasted Feb 29, 2016 • • Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Recommendation



The Norman Hardie Riesling is made in an essentially dry style, that seems to have fallen a little out of favour with local wineries — to my personal regret.

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Norman Hardie Riesling 2014, Ontario VQA

Vintages #131169 • $21.20 • 750ml. • 90/100
This is a Riesling that exudes limestone minerality. It all starts with its stony-chalky nose that hints of lime and green apples, and then washes austere limes and green apples across the palate, evolving into a lingering, limestone finish. There is just enough hidden residual sugar to soften the bracing, high-acid attack, keeping the wine from total austerity. I really like this style, though it will not suit those who want a softer and less challenging wine. Uncompromising and delicious.
Tasted Feb 29, 2016 • • Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Recommendation



I just chose to highlight two reds, at least in part because I spent most of my time with the white wines. But Malivoire has continued to be my benchmark for Niagara Gamay, and Norman Hardie has become one of my benchmarks for Ontario Pinot Noir.

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Malivoire Small Lot Gamay 2014, Beamsville Bench VQA

Vintages #0 • $19.95 • 750ml. • 90/100
The wine is bright translucent ruby, showing a hint of violet. The nose is redolent with fresh blackberries, black cherries, raspberries, with a hint of earth and twigs. The wine is bone dry, with brisk acidity, and very modest alcohol and tannins. This is a lovely wine, fresh, clean, fruit-driven, and quite exhilarating. Certainly one of Ontario's "Cru" Gamays, and an amazing value.
Tasted Feb 29, 2016 • • • Share Recommendation



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Norman Hardie Niagara Pinot Noir 2013, Niagara Peninsula VQA

Vintages #208702 • $39.00 • 750ml. • 92/100
Layers of fresh cherry, raspberry and blackberry fruit fill the nose, backed by dry earth, and underbrush, with subtle vanilla and a light roasted character that adds a sense of depth that complements the freshness. The wine is dry, with crisp acidity, silky tannins, and very modest alcohol. Some delicate green and herbal notes mingle with the fresh fruit on the palate, and the wine concludes with a lingering mineral finish. Another elegant Pinot from Norm Hardie.
Tasted Feb 29, 2016 • • Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Recommendation



Santé

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