Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends
Weâ€™re so glad you could attend
Come inside! Come inside!
â€” Emerson, Lake and Palmer
That old classic plays in my head whenever I visit one of John Howardâ€™s Cellars of Distinction tasting events.
Thereâ€™s always a carvnial atmosphere with tables set up circus style for wine, food and, always, special surprises.
Itâ€™s like walking into a cave and discovering thereâ€™s a party going on with a side show at every table. Except thereâ€™s no bearded lady or worldâ€™s smallest man. Thereâ€™s no sword swallowing and definitely no one being blasted from a cannon. Itâ€™s all about wine, food and culture.
Howardâ€™s most recent cellar event wasnâ€™t exactly as he billed it â€” a four-round tasting of Bordeaux futures and a ringside seat for regional artisan cheeses and Pingue fall classics.
Round 4, which was a futures tasting of the much anticipated Megalomaniac Proprietorâ€™s Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2007 and the 2007 Proprietorâ€™s Reserve (likely to be called Sous Terre) Cabernet Franc 2007 (both aged 22 months in Bordeaux oak cigar barrels), had to be cancelled because the wines were still too young to taste. And the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon was booted from Round 2 (for the same reason) and replaced by Pinot Noir 2008.
But it mattered not. There was plenty going on to pique the interest of wine lovers, many whom drove great distances to take in the show, taste and fill their trunks with Megalomaniac wines.
John Howard is a showman. He knows how to promote his wines whether itâ€™s his famous Niagara brand or wines from a 35% stake in his Bordeaux properties.
Part of the attraction to the fall showcase release was an opportunity to taste through the 2009 Bordeaux wines that Howard shares an interest in. The Vineland businessman turned wine baron, is a 35% (the most allowed under French law) partner with the Januoueix family, which operates four estates in Bordeaux from Grand Cru to Bordeaux Superieur.
Guests were invited to taste four wines â€” Chateau La Confession, Chateau Croix St. Georges, Chateau Le Conseiller and Chateau Croix Mouton â€” and purchase them through the Vintages futures program. By mid-day of the tasting, you couldnâ€™t get near the table it was so packed.
Cellars of Distinction vineyard manager, Duarte Oliveira, who travels frequently to Bordeaux and was pouring those wines, said the tasting was â€œa great chance to try Niagara wines and also the wines that brought us these varietals â€” Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. We always try to showcase our friends and family.â€
The 09 Bordeaux wines were sensational. Many are calling the vintage the greatest in a long time. The grand cru La Confession ($162 for a three-bottle lot) was an amazing wine that will evolve for decades.
Perhaps more impressive was the lesser Le Conseiller at $20 a bottle. Itâ€™s such a beautiful wine for the price with cassis, mineral, lavish fruit and spice and shows promise that it will develop for a few years yet to come.
Guests were also treated to several pouring stations throughout the winery â€” Merlot and Pinot 2008 were being introduced at the far end, while the new reserve 2007 Pinot Noir and Eccentric were poured among the oak wine barrels. You could also get reacquainted with past vintages of the rose, riesling or icewine all spread around the winery.
If artâ€™s your thing, author Tanya Scholes was signing and selling copies of her book, The Art and Design of Contemporary Wine Labels, which features Megalomaniac and many other wineries.
Howard also likes to keep his flock well fed. He laid on a dazzling display of delectable treats of regional artisan cheeses (from Thornloe Dairy) and everyoneâ€™s favourite Pingue fresh-carved prosciutto.
Here are two wines that were being released on a â€œfuturesâ€ basis, which means orders were being taken for the wine that wonâ€™t be released until some time in the future.
Megalomaniac Eccentric Savagnin 2009 ($25, 4 stars) â€” As the name suggests, an eccentric white grape grown mainly in Jura in Eastern France. This is all about the zesty citrus/grapefruit/lime and herbaceous notes that travel from nose to palate. Extremely food-friendly, acid-laced and refreshingly juicy wine.
Megalomaniac â€œSous Terreâ€ Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 ($45, 4.5 stars) â€” Will prove to be among the top Pinots of the vintage in Niagara. A very fine nose of black cherry, bramble and earth to go with oak (22 months in cigar barrels) and toasted vanilla. Itâ€™s disjointed at the moment but slowly coming into balance on the palate with layers of cherry fruit, savoury and cedar cigar box notes, and truffles in a rich, lavish style. For the cellar.