Top Ontario wineries show off their terroir in T.O.

Note: A group of Niagara wineries is showcasing its top terroir-driven wines May 10 in Toronto. Here is a press release with the details:

Niagara, ON – Ten of Ontario’s top wineries are bringing their wines – and their soils – to Toronto for an evening of tasting and education.

Somewhereness is an event designed to allow guests to tour the wineries and their unique terroir through their taste buds, with carefully selected wines that highlight the unique soils, climate, vineyard management and winemaking styles that are the mainstays of the Somewhereness philosophy. Winemakers will pour their own wines and interact with guests throughout the evening while sharing how their wines speak of their place of origin.

This year, international wine writer and educator Ian D’Agata will deliver a keynote address and introduce winemakers from the ten featured wineries who will share their wines and winemaking philosophies with over 300 guests. Canadian- born, Mr. D’Agata now resides in Rome where he is the Honorary Director of the International Wine Academy of Roma. Mr. D’Agata – a contributor to both Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar and Decanter magazine – will share his impressions of the impact of Somewhereness on Ontario wines in a global context. His international perspective was gained as a result of a celebrated career that has taken him around the world. Mr D’Agata spends an average of 260 days each year tasting and visiting wine regions throughout the world including Italy, France and beyond.

Renowned author and Wine Spectator columnist Matt Kramer infused the universal idea of terroir with a distinctly New World sensibility, calling it Somewhereness. Inspired by this concept, a small group of Ontario winemakers dedicated to creating terroir-focused wines came together in 2007 to showcase their embodiment of Somewhereness – a commitment to growing small lots of site-specific wines in Ontario’s ancient glacial soils while ensuring that the character of their unique terroir is represented in every bottle.

Somewhereness 2011 will feature the following Ontario wineries: Cave Spring Cellars, Charles Baker Wines, Flat Rock Cellars, Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery, Malivoire Wine Company, Norman Hardie Winery, Southbrook Vineyards, Stratus Vineyards, Tawse Winery, and 13th Street Winery.

Keynote Address & Structured Tasting: 6:30pm

Walk-around Tasting: 8:00pm

Somewhereness 2011, presented in partnership with VINTAGES, will be held at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto. Tickets are $99 per person, and are available through the Vintages ticket centre at 416-365-5767 or 1-800- 266-4764, or at somewhereness

LCBO recalls suspected counterfeit wine

The LCBO is advising consumers who have purchased the 750 mL bottle of the 2006 Negrar Amarone Classico (a premium red Italian table wine) with the DOC (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata) number AAA 09439731 on the neck label to return this product to the LCBO in exchange for the 2007 and 2008 Negrar Amarone Classico or a refund. Bottles with the above DOC number are suspected of being counterfeit and not produced by the supplier.

Bottles of 2006 Negrar Amarone Classico with a different DOC number on the neck label are authentic. The bottle shape of the suspected counterfeit wine also differs from the authentic wine.  The 2007 and 2008 Negrar Amarone Classico are not affected by this recall.

“All of the 2006 Negrar Amarone Classico that we imported from the supplier and distributed through our Logistics facilities to our stores was authentic,” says Dr. George Soleas, Senior Vice President, LCBO Logistics/Quality Assurance. “Subsequently, staff discovered that some bottles returned to our stores were different from those we imported from the supplier. We want to ensure that our customers have purchased the authentic product.”

LCBO quality assurance testing has determined that the suspected counterfeit wines do not present any health and safety concerns.  However, both lab and taste tests show the suspected counterfeit products differ in taste profile and chemical makeup from the authentic product.

The LCBO has withdrawn all bottles of the 2006 Negrar Amarone Classico from its stores to determine whether there are suspected counterfeit bottles among the inventory.

The source of the suspected counterfeit bottles is currently under police investigation.

Peninsula Ridge freshens its wine portfolio

Jonathon Kuhling, GM at Pen Ridge.

There’s a sense of renewal at Peninsula Ridge Estates, the stunning Beamsville winery that stands as the unofficial gateway to Niagara wine country.

With a new winemaker more focused on the approachable style of Peninsula Ridge wines, a new $200,000 bottling line, and a well-priced second label called Top Bench to join the VQA competition in the $15 category at the LCBO, the winery has started a new chapter in Niagara.

Most exciting is the state of the art bottling line that will allow Pen Ridge to enclose their wines in either cork or screwcap at a pace of 30 bottles a minute.

With the Top Bench wines — a red and white blend — set to hit LCBO shelves this June, the winery is expecting to eventually double its production to 30,000 cases. The first vintage of Top will include 1,500 cases of both the red and white.

The label for the new Top Bench Red at Peninsula Ridge.

On a recent tour through the spotlessly clean winery and barrel cellar, with newly appointed general manager of Pen Ridge, Jonathon Kuhling, and assistant winemaker Sean Palmer, the pair were excited not only about the prospects for Top Bench but also for the wines currently in tank and barrel.

Peninsula Ridge has always had a well-rounded portfolio of wines across all price points. You get the feeling the portfolio will be trimmed down and more focused on reds that “show more fruit and are made for earlier drinking.”

Kuhling said the switch from winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas, now at 13th Street, to Jamie Evans will result in “some change” to the portfolio but “we’re trying to preserve the style.”

Kuhling and Palmer offer up a sample of the new Top Bench White 2009 — a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer. The wine is fresh and fruity with peach, apple and a touch of lychee and spice.

The Top Bench Red 2009 — a blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir — is a mélange of dark fruits and soft tannins that’s quite tasty and easy on the palate.

“We definitely want to work on the price-value relationship,” Kuhling said. “We can line them up against other wines around the world and we’d fit right in.”

Jonathon Kuhling with some of the Pen Ridge wines.

Kuhling, along with Pen Ridge owner Norm Beal, said the new concept wines, with their striking labels and screwcap tops, are aimed at younger consumers who are buying up local wines in the $15 category at an alarming rate and it’s starting to show in sales at the LCBO with an 18% increase in VQA wines year over year.

After the June LCBO launch, Kuhling said he’d like to roll out the Top Bench wines to other provinces.

Here are reviews of the some of the wines we tried and liked at Pen Ridge:

Peninsula Ridge AJ Lepp Vineyard Pinot Gris 2010 ($18, spring release, 4 stars) — An expressive nose of sweet and ripe tropical fruits, mango and melon. It’s round and fleshy on the palate and loaded with fruit flavours.

Peninsula Ridge Dubois Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2009 ($25, winery only, 4.5 stars) — A well made Gewurz that balances this big juicy grapefruit, mandarin orange and lychee flavours with a decent measure of fresh acidity. A hint of must to go with exotic spice on the finish. Very fine.

Pen Ridge Reserve Gewurztraminer.

Peninsula Ridge Vintner’s Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($25, winery only, 4 stars) — Pen Ridge excels with this grape at all price points. This top drawer example, with just a touch of oak influence, combines powerful topical notes with citrus and melon on the nose. It has gorgeous mouthfeel, almost elegant, with rich layers of fruit and a touch of spice.

Peninsula Ridge Reserve Syrah 2007 ($25, winery, 4.5 stars) — Surprisingly, this Syrah from the hot 2007 vintage shows mid-weight on the palate a balanced approach on the nose and in the mouth. Lovely dark fruits, pepper spice, oak and earthy notes through the long finish.

Peninsula Ridge Vintner’s Private Reserve Merlot 2006 ($42, winery, 4.5 stars) — A big, meaty, smoky, spicy nose with red and dark fruits. It’s a muscular wine in the mouth with firm tannins, layered fruits and spice. Can still be cellared for a few more years.

And one to watch for down the road:

Peninsula Ridge Norm Beal Vineyard Syrah 2010 — We tried this astonishing Syrah in barrel and were blown away by the developing flavours. It’s pure Rhone style with meaty fruits, pepper and lavish spice. Watch for it.


New pinots from Lailey, and some 13th Street gems

Chances are, on any given day of the week, you’ll find Derek Barnett pouring his wines for anyone who comes through the doors at Lailey Vineyard or in the barrel room tinkering, blending, tasting.

Derek Barnett from Lailey in a photo taken last summer.

And if the winemaker isn’t at Lailey, it’s likely he’s on the road somewhere exposing his wines to as wide an audience as he can.

I don’t think you’ll find anyone as passionate and hard working as Barnett or as visible on the wine circuit. He’s the kind of guy who likes to sell his wines person to person, so they understand exactly what they are getting.

And that means a bottle of hand-crafted wine made from estate (or from trusted grower) grapes, most of which comes right from the vineyards you can see out the back windows of the winery.

On a recent trek through the wine country, I popped into Lailey to taste whatever was new on the shelves (or just recently bottled).

Of course I ran into Barnett who was only too happy to pour.

Here’s what I liked of the current or upcoming vinatages:

Lailey Vineyard Lot 48 Pinot Noir 2009 ($60, April release, 5 stars) — It’s a bit unfair to review this young wine that’s only recently been bottled, but I only see upside for this stunning Pinot made from purchased Bench fruit. Lot 48 is only made by Barnett is the very best vintages and loyal Lailey customers have already purchased 30% of the wine through a “futures” program. This is wonderful stuff. Pure cherry, vanilla spice and toasty oak on the nose. But the true pedigree of this wine shows itself on the palate. Such a ripe core of red fruit and wonderful silky texture in the mouth, with perfect spice and oak nuances. Interesting all the way through the finish.

13th Street Cuvee Rose.

Lailey Vineyard Brickyard Pinot Noir 2009 ($35, April release, 4.5 stars) — The Brickyard is small estate, sustainably farmed vineyard that showcases perfectly both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Only 140 cases of this wine were produced and you may want to be at Lailey when it’s released. What a fantastic Pinot! Pretty aromatics that show fresh-picked cherries, raspberries and touches of pomegranate, spice and subtle oak tones. It’s just so silky smooth on the palate with forward red fruits and integrated spice already. A beauty.

Lailey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 ($25, winery, 4 stars) — Even this entry level Pinot, a blend of several vineyards, is a superb example of Lailey’s craftsmanship with this grape. A nose of cherry-cranberry fruit, cloves and vanilla. Again, classic Pinot texture in the mouth with gorgeous red fruits and generously spiced from sip to swallow.

Lailey Vineyard Meritage 2008 ($25, winery, 3.5-4 stars) — Almost equal amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvingon and Cabernet Franc. Of course, not as thick and concentrated as the 2007 Meritage (which cost $35) but a nice red nonetheless. The nose shows currants, wild berries and spice which carry to the palate. A nice food-friendly red with juicy acidity and delicious fruit flavours through the finish.

13th Street Gewurz

Lailey Vineyard Riesling 2010 ($18, April release, 4 stars) — A bit unfair to review this young wine, but it was impressive for a warm vintage Riesling. Shows good freshness on the nose with floral, tropical, citrus notes. On the palate the crisp citrus-lime fruits are complimented by stony minerality. Will be a fine Riesling when ready.


I also dropped in on Peter Bodnar Rod, sommelier and sales-marketing manager for 13th Street Winery, to taste some 2009 releases. Here are a few I can highly recommend.

13th Street Cuvee Rose NV ($25, winery only for now, 4 stars) — A lovely traditional method sparkling wine with pretty strawberry and cherry fruits on the nose to go with light toasty notes. It’s fresh on the palate with a vigorous mousse and bright, freshening acidity.

13th Street June’s Vineyard Unoaked Chardonnay 2009 ($20, winery, 4 stars) — This is the first vintage for this single-vineyard Chard, fashioned after the wines of Chablis. Shows fresh green apple and a touch of citrus on the nose. Lovely mineral note to go with the crisp apple flavours.

13th Street Gewurztraminer 2009 ($20, winery, 3.5 stars) — Sweet perfume, lychee, grapefruit and spice on the nose of this smartly priced Gewurz. Shows decent acidity on the palate, often lacking in Niagara Gewurz, and retains the rich flavours you want from the variety. Made in a dry style.

13th Street Gamay Noir Sandstone Vineyard Old Vines 2009 ($28, winery, 4.5 stars) — A n expressive nose of earthy blueberry-bramble fruit with cassis and lavish spices. The fruits explode on the palate and everything is all balanced out by firm acidity. 13th Street is one of the few wineries in Niagara that excels with this varietal.

13th Street Syrah 2009 ($28, winery, 4 stars) — A very young Syrah with bold dark fruits backed up by black peppercorns and oak-inspired spice. The palate reveals rich, ripe blackberry fruits, a touch of cherry and spice on a firm bed of tannins. Buy, cellar and hold for a few years.


Cab Francs from 08 a delightful surprise

The Cabernet Francs from the somewhat difficult 2008 growing season in Niagara have turned out to be a delightful surprise.

Peller Signature Series Cab Franc 2008

While many wineries declassified a lot of their top Bordeaux varietal fruit, or simply cut down on yields and/or dropped prices on the 2008s, many are proving to be well worth the buy.

The best are sumptuous with classic cool climate Cab Franc flavours in a leaner style than wines made from warmer, drier vintages. They aren’t built for long-term drinking but are perfectly delightful upon release or with a couple years of cellaring.

A recent sweep through Niagara found some excellent examples from the 2008 vintage. Here’s what I liked:

Lailey Cabernet Franc 2008 ($30, 4 stars) — Very small production (97 cases) of this followup to the completely different 2007 version. The fruit was taken from the ripest, oldest blocks in the estate vineyards and yields drastically cut back. As winemaker Derek Barnett explained, it’s more Chinon (Loire Valley, France) in style than anything else. It’s lean and elegant with crushed red berry fruits, lovely texture, integrated spice and balance.

Peller Estates Signature Series Cabernet Franc 2008 ($38, 4.5 stars) — Peller only made one Signature Series red wine in 2008 and this is it. The fruit for this Cab Franc spent 20 months in 50% new French and American oak. It shows wonderful black cherry and currant fruit on the nose to go with vanilla, a touch of roasted herbs and spice. Love the fruit on the palate but still shows restraint and elegance.

30 Bench Small Lot Cabernet Franc.

Thirty Bench Small Lot Cabernet Franc 2008 (4 stars, $40) — From hand-picked estate fruit that was barrel-aged in 100% French oak for 18 months. The nose is all about mocha-blackberry-cherry, vanilla, cassis preserve and cigar-box cedar. On the palate the rich fruits meld nicely with the charred oak, roasted vanilla bean and plush tannins.


Touring around Niagara recently I found some interesting wine and food combinations and some delicious new wines being poured. Here are some highlights:

Hidden Bench riesling with raclette.

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2008 ($26) served with Raclette — How exciting to run into the owner of Hidden Bench, Harald Thiel, at his winery with apron on making his special raclette from Niagara Gold cheese made at Upper Canada Cheese Company (which he also owns). And what a glorious pairing with the peach and citrus notes of this wonderful everyday Riesling.

Niagara Gold is an Oka-style semi-soft, washed rind cheese with nutty, earthy, buttery flavours that are amplified when melted and served with double-smoked pork loin and Yukon Gold potatoes.

Baco Noir and bacon at Sue Ann Staff winery.

Sue-Ann Staff Estate Baco Noir 2008 ($16) paired with a “manly” slice of Belgian chocolate dipped bacon — Yes, the heavens collided at Sue Ann’s winery with three of my most favourite things in the world all coming together in one taste sensation. And what a treat it was to sip the smoky, meaty Staff Baco and chase it with a hunk of crispy bacon slathered inBelgium chocolate, a creation made by Toute Sweet Ice Cream and Chocolate. Dreams do come true.

Fielding Estate Chardonnay Musque 2010 ($17, 3.5 stars) — Great to see some early wines from the ripe and hot 2010 vintage starting to arrive. Chardonnay Musque is a fun spring-summer wine with ripe aromas of spiced apple, peach and melon. It’s round and juicy on the palate with fruit salad flavours and a touch of sweetness.

New Fielding Estate Rose.

Fielding Estate Rose 2010 ($16, 3.5 stars) — A fun wine that’s a blend of four different red varietals. Aromas and flavours range from cran-cherry and tangerine to apple and fresh strawberries. A perfect, slightly off-dry, summer sipper.

Ravine Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2009 ($22, 4.5 stars) — Stunning Gewurz from this small St. Davids winery. It starts on the nose with beautiful pear, grapefruit, lychee, spice and honey notes. It’s broad and caressing on the palate with a lovely sweet combination of fruit, honey and spice that’s balanced, and not all over the top, through the finish.

Ravine riesling.

Ravine Vineyard Riesling 2009 ($28, 4.5 stars) — This partially botrytis-affected Riesling is dangerously good. Thankfully, it’s finished with barely 10% alcohol so when you go to refill your glass over and over, you can do so without feeling too guilty. What a fabulous wine! It gushes with honeycomb, peach, lime cordial and melon that carries on through the palate. A truly unique wine that tops the previous great Rieslings made at this property.

Thirty Bench Small Lot Merlot 2008 ($40, 4 stars) — The nose is just a tad closed at the moment but shows soft red berries, plum, cedar and spice. On the palate the fruits open up with blackberry and cherry mingling with vanilla, mocha and oak. Elegantly styled Merlot.