Registration now open for Riesling Experience at Brock

Note: Brock University is hosting the Riesling Experience 2011 in June. Here’s the news release.

REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN!

Who:

The Riesling Experience, first held at Brock University, Ontario Canada in 2008, was so successful that the organizers are back again for 2011 with an expanded two-day program.

World-renowned French producer, Pierre Trimbach will open the event with a tutored tasting of his top Rieslings and will discuss his experiences with Riesling in Alsace.  It will take place in the centre of Canada’s Riesling wine country — St. Catharines, Ontario, and be hosted at Brock University, the home of its well-known wine research institute, the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

The purpose of the gathering is to bring together producers, trade, media and wine enthusiasts from Canada, the US and around the world to share and learn more about the diversity, beauty and versatility of Riesling.

What:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Keynote Speaker: Pierre Trimbach, Domaine Trimbach, France
Great Lakes Panel: Featuring representatives from Michigan, Ohio, New York and Ontario
Lunch: Made popular in 2008 we present to you a Riesling-friendly luncheon that will also include international Rieslings

Friday, June 10, 2011

Niagara Vineyard Tour: Our speakers will join registrants on a tour through vineyards located on the Niagara Bench.  Lunch will take place in the vineyards of Cave Spring Cellars. Listen, learn and discuss Riesling’s triumphs and tribulations.

Where:

In the heart of wine country — Niagara brings you picturesque vineyards and wineries, also home to Niagara Falls.

Why:

The time has come for Ontario to play a significant role in transforming consumer recognition regarding the beauty, versatility and purity of Riesling. We aspire to use the platform of the Riesling Experience as an opportunity to focus on learning more about something with which we have the wherewithal to excel and flourish.

How Much?

Registrants have three options for registering (applicable taxes will be applied):

Option 1:  Day 1 and Day 2,  Total cost: $200 CAD
Option 2:  Day 1 only, Total cost: $125 CAD
Option 3:  Day 2 only,  Total cost: $ 75 CAD

On the web: Riesling Experience

Further details regarding the conference program, participating speakers, accommodations and registration fee please visit our website.

For more information contact the Chair of the 2011 Riesling Experience, Angelo Pavan, Vice-President and Winemaker, Cave Spring Cellars at a.pavan@cavespring.ca  or the Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), Brock University at ccovi@brocku.ca

Telephone: Cave Spring Cellars at 905.562-3581 ext. 333 or CCOVI at 905.688.5550, ext. 4652

The exotic Viogniers of Niagara and Okanagan

It is an unlikely friend of Niagara because it’s so difficult to grow, easily infected with mildew in humid conditions, must be picked at its peak of maturity, which is late in the harvest, and is notorious for its low acids and high alcohol.

Tasters enjoy a selection of Viogniers at Hidden Bench

Yet some of the best wineries in Niagara feel it’s worth all the risks to produce a top-notch Viognier year-in and year-out.

Viognier is best known for its roots in the Northern Rhone appellations of Condrieu and as a powerful ally when just a tiny amount is added to many of the Rhone’s, and other region’s, top Syrahs.

The varietal’s powerful and complex aromas and flavours — from apricot, mango and tangerine to acacia, honey and guava — are appealing to lovers of bolder, more full-bodied white wines. Many consider Viognier the red wine lover’s white wine.

And it seems to be making a comeback of sorts with regions from California (which uses it in a lot of new blends) to Australia planting more and more of the grape.

Both B.C.’s Okanagan Valley and Ontario’s Niagara region have a smattering of plantings, used primarily for small amounts of boutique Viognier sold to a niche market.

After tasting over 20 Viogniers from Niagara, B.C. and even a Condrieu from France, with some friends at Hidden Bench Winery, one thing is clear: No one style defines this complicated varietal.

The Viognier lineup at Hidden Bench.

We tasted Viogniers that were dry, off-dry, sweet, barrel fermented, or fermented in neutral oak, heavily oaked, unoaked, and several variations of all of the above.

The one constant through all the styles and variations was relatively high alcohol levels in all of them, 13% or higher, from the late hang-time these grapes need to reveal their true varietal character.

Another interesting trait in nearly all the wines tasted was the longevity factor (or lack thereof) due to low acidity — they need to be drunk in their youth as the wines start deteriorating rapidly after a few years of bottle age — in fact, some of the wines we tasted from earlier vintages were essentially undrinkable.

But, after saying all that, Viognier can be an exciting wine enjoyed in myriad styles. I found some real beauties in the tasting, whether dry, off dry, oaked or unoaked. I’m certainly happy that some in Niagara have chosen to make this variety — a nice alternative to Chardonnay and Riesling.

Though tricky to match with food, Viognier pairs up well with Thai food, Mexican dishes, medium to strong and salty cheeses, fish dishes made with rich sauces, pork, chicken and fresh fruit.

Here are some of my favourites from the tasting, hosted by Jay Johnston and Marlize Beyers, winemakers at Hidden Bench.

Chateau des Charmes St. David’s Bench Viognier 2008 ($26, 4 stars) — This Viognier is made in an unoaked style with gorgeous melon, peach and floral notes on the nose. Love the freshness on the palate to go with peach fruit and a smooth finish.

Fielding Estate Viognier 2009 ($30, winery, 4 stars) — The inviting nose starts with pear preserve, wild honey, peach and sweet, exotic spice. It’s lush, round and fleshy on the palate but finishes with some noticeable acidity to balance out the subtle residual sugars.

Creekside Reserve Viognier 2009 ($29, winery, 4.5 stars) — Barrel fermented in neutral oak, this Creekside version is intense with ripe, rich apple, peach, apricot fruits on the nose to go with a touch of spice. It must be a hallmark of the 09 vintage, but this Viognier also showed some vibrancy on the palate to go with rich fruits and spice.

Creekside Undercurrent Viognier 2008 (price and availability unavailable, 4.5 stars) — A highly stylish wine, with 18 months in oak barrels, and atypical notes for this varietal. But, don’t let that stop you — it’s a sensational wine with pear preserve, cream, vanilla, cinnamon and, what some tasters felt, Sauvignon Blanc-like qualities including kiwi and herbaceous notes. Somehow it all works on the palate. A fascinating wine. Will be sold in half bottles when released.

Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard Viognier 2009 ($35, winery, 4.5 stars) — We were treated to a four-year vertical of this wine from Hidden Bench. Only the 2006 was starting to fade. The 07 and 08 showed excellent varietal fruit and the just released 09, fermented in neutral oak, was one of the favourites of the tasting and one of the closest to the style of Condrieu. Exotic notes on the nose revealed peach, subtle spice and tropical fruits. The tree fruits on the palate are bolstered by soft spice and freshened by good acidity. It shows elegance and wonderful texture in the mouth.

Stratus Viognier 2008 ($38, winery, 4 stars) — This is Stratus’ first Viognier and spent 20 months in 33% new oak. The nose is all about sweet and exotically spiced pear and peach notes. It shows structure on the palate with melon, pear and peach flavours topped with vanilla and coconut.

And some of the Okanagan Valley, B.C., Viogniers we enjoyed:

Hillside Estate Viognier 2009 ($25, 4 stars) — Very interesting style with partial barrel fermentation in year-old Hungarian oak and barrel aged for four months. Shows wonderful aromatics of apple, peach, musk and a touch of toast and vanilla. Fabulously lush, rich and creamy mouthfeel with spicy fruit and a long finish.

Jackson-Triggs Silver Series Viognier.

Jackson Triggs Silver Series Viognier 2009 ($16, 4 stars) — Representing not only great value but wonderful aromatics of melon, peach, and floral notes. This unoaked version of the grape had it all — clean and crisp tropical fruit and peach flavours that last through the finish.

Silkscarf Viognier 2008 ($22, 3.5 stars) — Poached pear and apricot dominates the nose of this summer sipper. Lacking a little acidity in the mouth but shows nice apricot, pear, and melon flavours.

Sandhill Small Lots Viognier 2008 ($25, 4.5 stars) — It’s no surprise to me that this wine earned winemaker extraordinaire Howard Soon the white wine of the year award at last year’s Canadian Wine Awards. Grown exclusively from the Osprey Ridge Vineyard, this stunner is rife with rich aromas ranging from lush tropical fruits to poached pear. It’s fleshy, textured and layered on the palate but still retains freshness. A thing of beauty.

Stag’s Hollow Viognier-Marsanne 2008 ($25, 4.5 stars) — One of the most interesting wines of the tasting. This blend of 83% Viognier and the rest Marsanne is right up winemaker Dwight Sick’s alley. He’s a self-confessed Rhone-varietal fanatic and had some fun making this wine that was 100% barrel fermented and aged in oak for eight months. It starts with a gorgeous nose of sweet stone fruit, apricot, exotic spice and vanilla. It’s broad and rich on the palate with ripe fruits and some acid zing. It’s long sold out, but you might want to make the effort to snap up the next vintage when it’s released.

And the one Condrieu we tasted:

Pierre Gaillard Condrieu 2008 ($68, 4.5 stars) — A delicate note of white flowers to go with stone fruits and a whiff of cardamom spice. It’s wow wine on the palate with a creamy texture from eight months in oak, exotic tropical fruits and spice. All nicely balanced with freshness on the finish. And it can age nicely for five year.

Enjoy!

A look back on 2002 Niagara Cab-Merlots

It happens so rarely, especially with Niagara wines.

A tasting of over 30 Cab-Merlot blends, from a fantastic back vintage, critically assessed by a collection of sommeliers, wine writers, winemakers and just plain fans of local wine.

It’s rare because Niagara wineries aren’t in the habit of keeping a lot of back inventory for future tastings. In fact, some of the bottles gathered for the tasting were the very last the winery had in their cellars.

The idea for the tasting originated with Christopher Wilton, a wine educator and representative from the wine agency the Small Winemakers Collection, and Will Predhomme, senior sommelier at Canoe Restaurant in Toronto. Both Ontario wine lovers were curious about the 2002 vintage, a hot, dry season that produced intense, big reds with massive tannins. The question was: Would the fruit and tannins ever come into balance?

Cab-Merlot from 2002 vintage cover the bar at Canoe

The 2002 vintage was similar to 2010 and 2007 and was one of the first really hot years that got winemakers excited. But many winemakers got a little too enthusiastic and didn’t quite know how to deal with all those overly aggressive tannins, leaving the wines disjointed, some like sandpaper in the mouth, and not appealing to drink in their youth or as they aged.

A taster samples a Niagar 02 Cab-Merlot at Canoe. What a view!

But others, after a blind tasting of an incredible array of 2002 Cab-Merlots at Canoe Restaurant recently, were fabulously rich, ripe and holding up nicely after eight years in bottle.

Craig McDonald, winemaker at Hillebrand and former winemaker at Creekside, said following the tasting that the winemakers who employed tannin management made the best wines in the 2002.

“I would think the tendency was to over-oak the wines in 2002. It was a warm year, the first big one we had, with lots tannins showing and it’s still prevalent in the fruit,” he said.

“There are some wines (from 2002) that are showing really, really well and have a long way to go and there are ones that are past it.”

Which was the most striking revelation of the tasting. Some blends, consisting of varying degrees of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, were absolutely gorgeous while others were well beyond drinking now.

Some of the tasters at the Cab-Merlot event at Canoe.

McDonald said that winemakers learned from 2002 and know better how to deal with overly aggressive tannins from hot vintages. “It’s not just about ripe fruit and buying good (oak) barrels and calling it a day,” he said.

McDonald explained that big tannins don’t necessarily make great wines. “It’s about extraction (not overdoing it), time on the skins, fermentation temperatures and those types of things.”

Here are some of the winners from the Cab-Merlot 2002 vintage:

Peninsula Ridge Reserve Cabernet Reserve 2002 (4 stars) — A nose of cherry, blackberry and lovely integrated spice. Very fine on the palate with red fruits, firm tannins and balanced oak and spice. The question is: Will the fruit out-run the tannins?

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Cab-Merlot 2002 (4.5 stars)— One of the highlights of the tasting. A gorgeous nose of bramble, cherry, toasty spice and vanilla. It’s beautifully put together on the palate with wild red fruits, balance and power. Can age for a few more years and improve.

Vineland Estate Cab Merlot 02

Vineland Estate Reserve Cab-Merlot 2002 (4 stars) — The nose is starting to fade on this red blend but the fruit is alive and well on the palate with layered cherry and wild berry flavours and a nice chocolate note on the finish. Drink up if you have any kicking around.

Jackson-Triggs Delaine Vineyard Cab-Merlot 2002 (4.5 stars) — A real surprise from this vineyard which, in 2002, was newly planted. The nose is all about jammy, rich plum-blackberry fruits with soft oak-vanilla undertones. It’s rich, ripe and bursting with black cherry flavours on the palate. Simply divine.

Chateau des Charmes Equuleus 2002 (4.5 stars) — A big jammy cherry nose with oak, vanilla and spice neatly stitched in. The wine on the palate delivers layered fruits on a firm, tannic backbone that shows promise for further integration with time. Like a grand cru Bordeaux, it will age gracefully and improve.

Vineland Estate Rosomel Vineyard Meritage 2002 (4.5 stars) — Cherry fruit, medicinal and earthy notes on the nose of this intriguing red. It’s about at its peak right now with juicy and layered fruits, fabulous spice and length on the palate.

Peninsula Ridge Arcanum 2002 (4.5 stars, still for sale at the winery, $40) — Drinking beautifully right now with a meaty-earthy nose with red fruits, spice and oak notes. In the mouth it shows intensity with persistent red and black fruits that are totally integrated with the oak and spice.

Some of the other Cab-Merlots that impressed the tasters included the Thirty Bench Benchmark Red 2002, Trius Red 2002, Kacaba Proprietors Reserve Meritage 2002 (still for sale at $120 per bottle and aged in oak for five years), Southbrook Poetica 2002, and Maleta Meritage 2002.

Enjoy!

Pascal Marchand, Moray Tawse partner on Burgundy label

Note: Press release issued recently on a new partnership between Pascal Marchand and Vineland, Ontario, winery owner, Moray Tawse.

Pascal Marchand Join Forces To Create New Label

Nuits-Saint-Georges, France; Vineland, Canada (January 7, 2011)

Pascal Marchand and Moray Tawse today announced the launch of a new business venture that will distribute the existing Pascal Marchand line of wines under a new label: Marchand & Tawse.

Effective January 1, 2011, SARL Marchand & Tawse will operate out of it’s cuverie and cellars in Nuits-Saint-Georges to further develop the Pascal Marchand brand while expanding its range of  “te de Nuits” and “te de Beaune” wines.

The partnership of these two long-time friends and business associates marks a commitment to creating wines that are the best expression of some of Burgundy’s most celebrated terroirs.

With over 25 years of winemaking experience at renowned Burgundy domaines such as Comte Armand, Domaine de la Vougeraie and Jean Fary, and as a consultant in Chile, California, Canada and Australia, Marchand possesses a deep understanding of terroir-driven wines. In addition to the new venture, he will be continuing with his highly successful Australian label, Marchand & Burch.

Moray Tawse and his family have vineyard holdings in Burgundy, Argentina and Canada. Tawse Winery, located in the Niagara Region, is one of Canada’s most recognized wineries. Named Winery of the Year at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards, Tawse is certified organic and biodynamic and specializes in Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.

The Pascal Marchand range of 2007 and 2008 Bourgogne, Village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines are already being bottled under the new Marchand & Tawse label.

Let the party begin! Niagara Icewine Festival

Every January, just like clockwork, brave Canadians from around Ontario, northern New York and all points beyond break out the parkas, mittens and wooly hats to spend a little quality time eating drinking and celebrating one of Canada’s greatest treasures — that golden nectar called Icewine.

This glass of icewine broke a world record.

Everyone is invited to the party, of course, to share a magical few days in a winter wonderland that includes glitzy galas, ice bars, winery tours, outdoor ice carving and lots of icewine and food to match.

Peking Duck was a food highlight.

The Niagara Icewine Festival is held over three weekends in January, this year from Jan. 14 to 30, in wineries and towns throughout the region.

The weekend kicked off on Friday with 38 Ontario wineries pouring bottles of their best icewine into a specially made four-foot tall wine flute at the Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls to break a Guinness World Record.

Chocolate & icewine. Perfect together.

The new record now stands at 27 litres, breaking the old record set three years ago in Italy.

“The record is there, so why can’t we have it, why does it have to be someone else?” said Ed Madronich, chairman of the Wine Council of Ontario.

Did someone say "chocolate?"

“For us it’s very symbolic. We make great wine and historically we have always compared ourselves to other wine regions. The fact that we can break a Guinness Book of World Records means that we can be the best here in Ontario.”

The last bottle of icewine was poured by Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser, the founders of Inniskillin Winery, who are considered to be the kings of the icewine industry.
The full video of the record breaking event can be seen here at the Wines Of Ontario website.

Later Friday night, also at the Fallsview Casino, the marquee event, the Xerox Red Hot & Ice Gala, drew a sold out, packed house of revellers all dressed in their best black ties and flowing gowns.

The evening featured more than 30 Ontario wineries, pouring exquisite icewines and matching it to Niagara cuisine prepared by the Fallsview Casino’s Golden Lotus and 17 Noir restaurants.

It was a classy affair with gorgeous styling in the room, icewine thematics, excellent entertainment and superb pairings of wine and food.

Giant Inniskillin Icewine at silent auction

Icewine is a uniquely rare Canadian product that has garnered worldwide recognition. It’s no wonder we celebrate the bounty of this liquid gold for three weekends in the middle of winter.

It’s a rarity because of the way it’s made — a labour intensive product that requires hand picking frozen grapes in the vineyard. The grapes must be picked before 10 a.m. while making sure the temperature doesn’t exceed -8C.

The frozen grapes are pressed, squeezing out the excess water, leaving a highly extracted liquid that is high in acidity and sugar.

The finished wine is like no other — super sweet but balanced by high acids, rich aromas of peach, apricot and sweet citrus, thick and viscous and usually low in alcohol.

A variety of grapes are used in the making of icewines including riesling, vidal, gewurztraminer, pinot gris, cabernet franc, chardonnay, merlot and gamay. And new styles are coming to market such as sparkling icewines and Champagne-styled wines with a shot or two of icewine for added sizzle and flavour.

•••

While icewine was the star attraction of events in Niagara Falls on Friday, the region-wide party took on a broader scope by Saturday.

Five spice pork belly a fave at WinterFest

Dubbed the Twenty Valley Winter WineFest, and centred in the quaint village of Jordan, guests could choose from choose from over 90 wines from 33 area wineries, with icewine sharing the stage with some of Ontario’s best sparkling and premium VQA wines.

The Winter WineFest is always a blast, with heated tents, live music and plenty of food and wine pairings that guests can enjoy simply in the great outdoors of a Canadian snowy day.

Winter plus wine = a beautiful thing.

Many of Niagara’s top Bench wineries were pouring their best stuff — including a selection of over 25 icewines, made from seven different varietals, and a bountiful selection of still and sparking wines. The wines paired beautifully with 11 local culinary stars which served up perfectly paired dishes, from fresh-shucked oysters to five-spice pork-belly (my favourite when matched with a gorgeous Sue-Ann Staff Riesling) and the ever-popular hand-cut frites and roasted chestnuts.

There was also a live band, a winemaker fashion show, a barrel-rolling competition and icewine themed cooking demonstrations.

Special tasting featured top Bench wines.

One of the highlights for me was a tasting (mostly a re-tasting) of some benchmark wines made in the Twenty Valley.

Wine writers had been gathered up for a special tasting in a frozen tent of five now classic wines: Cave Spring Cellars CSV Riesling 2008, Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2008, Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Creekside Estate Broken Press Shiraz 2007 and Hidden Bench La Brunante 2007.

It was exciting to hear the principals (OK, Harald Thiel, missed the tasting because he stopped to help a driver get his car out of a snow-packed ditch — how Canadian!) talk so passionately about their wonderful wines — even if it was -8C inside the tent and a lot of the sound was drowned out by an exhilarating winemaker barrel race taking place on Jordan’s main drag right outside the tent. We heard from Rob Power, winemaker at Creekside, Le Clos Jordanne winemaker Sébastien Jacquey, Tawse winemaker, Paul Pender, and Len Pennachetti, co-founder of Cave Spring.

Here are reviews of the wines poured:

Hidden Bench La Brunante 2007 ($85, 5 stars, sold out) —  Only two vintages of this extraordinary wine have ever been made. The other was 2005. Only 2,200 bottles were made from the finest Bordeaux grapes grown in the three estate vineyards with fruit cropping at less than a tonne per acre (hence the price). There are a lot of platitudes to heap on this wine, so let’s just start by saying it’s a huge red with a nose that doesn’t quit giving concentrated currants, blackberry, mocha, oak and spice notes. The fruit rages on the palate with tar, leather, velvety texture, ripe tannins and length on the finish all adding to this immense, highly concentrated wine.

Len Pennachetti, co-founder of Cave Spring

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2008 ($30, 4.5 stars) — This is starting to open up, showing exceptional minerality, hints of petrol, grapefruit-citrus, and floral notes. In the mouth it displays white peach, grapefruit, tropical-pineapple fruits that are playfully sweet and tart in the mouth.

Tawse winemaker, Paul Pender

Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2008 ($42, 4.5 stars) —Highly aromatic chardy with ripe pear, tropical fruits and gorgeously subtle oak, spice and cream. The palate reveals a balanced attack of fruit, acid and spice on a nice bed of minerality.

Rob Power, winemaker at Creekside

Creekside Broken Press Shiraz 2007 ($40, 4.5-5 stars) —The 2007 version of Broken Press is a sensational wine with lifted aromatics that are helped along with a shot of viognier added to the shiraz. Viognier brings a floral element to the rich red berries and spicy core. On the palate, the ripe red fruits are balanced by layers of spice, oak and ripe tannins.

Le Clos Jordanne winemaker Sébastien Jacquey

Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 ($40, 4 stars) —Still waiting on this pinot to open up a bit more. It is subtle on both the nose and palate with raspberry, smoke, plum, cranberry and soft spices. It’s pleasing in the mouth but hoping for more as it develops.

Yes, the icewine fest is in full gear. Time to find that parka and get our and enjoy the hundreds of events taking place in our own backyard.

•••

Next up is the the Niagara-on-the-Lake Icewine Village from Jan. 22 to 23 — The snow-covered streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake sparkle during the main event of the Icewine Festival. Located on historic Queen Street, the 25 Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake pour liquid gold all weekend long. Icewine is paired with the swinging sounds of Canadian Jazz and the town’s finest restaurants will be serving up icewine-inspired culinary pairings to delight then palate. Admission is free.

For more information, go to Niagara Icewine Festival