Niagara Wine Reviews

Sampling some of the best wines ever made in Ontario

What: Cuvee Gala weekend
When: Feb. 19-21 with the gala on Feb. 19
What it’s for: Awards night for Ontario wineries, followed by food and wine reception
Where: Niagara Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls
Tickets: $200 per person for Cuvee weekend. Can also buy Cuvee discovery passes for $30, which are used to sample wines at participating wineries that weekend.
Charity: Money raised goes to the Niagara Community Foundation, which grants money to local charities through an endowment fund.

By Rick VanSickle

Tasting through the hundreds of wines submitted for the Cuvee awards on Feb. 19, one thing was abundantly clear. In no other year of judging had so many outstanding wines been submitted across all wine styles.

A sea of red wines from the 2007 vintage and the lovely whites from 2008 flooded the various categories as judges spent a busy (but enjoyable) day tasting through 200 of Ontario’s top wines.

The Cuvee Awards are unique in that they are the only awards in Canada where the winning wines are chosen by the winemakers themselves. This peer review makes Cuvee one of the most meaningful competitions for winemakers. The winners of the awards are a closely guarded secret until they are revealed at the Cuvee gala being held at the Niagara Fallsview Casino.

A total of 54 Ontario wineries submitted up to three different wines for a shot at a variety of awards in several categories. Winning wines, along with the best of the rest, will be poured for guests at the gala.

I was part of a judging panel that included wine writers and sommeliers. Our job was to have a second look at some of the wines and break any ties that came up in the judging that is predominantly conducted by the winemakers. Our panel was impressed with many of the categories this year.

Of particular note were, of course, the 2007 reds. The meritage red blend category was the most competitive while other reds — Shiraz/Syrah, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Cabernet Sauvignon — were also popular at the competition with fabulous examples from the (mostly) 2007 vintage. Consumers and guests at the Cuvee gala are going to be treated to some of the best wines ever made in Ontario.

Also showing well were the 2008 aromatic white wines. Sauvignon Blanc was a standout as well as the popular Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Riesling categories.

Rounding out the competition were the sparkling wine and icewine categories, both showing plenty of diversity in styles.

A dizzying array of spectacular wines crossed our palates but I have to confess to being blown away by more than a few Cabernet Sauvignons, a category that isn’t traditionally sound vintage to vintage in Ontario. The 2007s are perfectly ripe and succulent. Also, the Syrah/Shiraz category was extremely well-represented with many thrilling examples of this warm-climate varietal.

On the white side, look for sensational Sauvignon Blancs, especially those with a touch of barrel aging, and the extraordinary Rieslings that are showing up on store shelves from the 2008 vintage.

In all, this year’s Cuvee awards gala should prove to be one of the best showcases ever for Ontario wines.

Here are a few wines tasted recently that are highly recommended.

Fielding Estate Syrah 2007 ($45, winery web only, release date is TBA, 4.5 stars) — A riveting red for fans of Rhonestyle Syrah with aromas of roasted meats, blueberry, wildberry, leather, smoke, creosote and game that comes at you in wave after wave. The dark fruits on the palate are joined by mint, liquorice, tar and smoky oak notes. This is a wild, spicy and exotic red that needs decanting for several hours and perhaps some time in the cellar. Watch for it.

Fielding Estate Gewuztraminer 2008 ($16, winery, LCBO, 4 stars) — An exotic nose of musk, honeysuckle, melon and grapefruit. It’s well defined on the palate with an oily texture and flavours of subtly sweet tropical-mango fruit and ginger spice. Try this with a spicy meal.

Tawse Carly’s Block Riesling 2008 ($30, winery, released in March, 4.5 stars) — Clean aromas of green apple, lemon-lime, petrol and a big whiff of minerals to start. The palate shows zesty, juicy citrus fruits delivered on a firm backbone of acidity. A beautiful and highly recommended Riesling to look out for.