HILLIER, Prince Edward County — I’m lost, as usual, making the transition from Closson Chase to Norman Hardie despite some excellent directions from Rick Bates.
Bates, who knows more about Ontario wines and, in particular, Prince Edward County wines, than I will ever know, is like a human GPS machine. Only problem is, he doesn’t know the names of the streets, so it goes something like this when you ask directions:
“Left, left, veer right at the fork, straight for a while, another left, a right, a right and it should be right there.”
He never gets lost but those who try and follow his directions inevitably end up on some country road with nary a vineyard in sight.
He has the instincts of a cop who knows his territory well (maybe that’s because he’s an ex-cop). You get a pretty good taste of that when trying to follow him down the twisting and narrow dirt roads that lead to PEC’s most interesting wineries. You keep up or you are doomed.
I had arranged to meet Bates and his wife Jinna at Closson Chase to taste with Bill Milliken, a passionate and knowledgeable consultant for the winery who also takes care of Western Canadian sales.
On a gorgeous but windy day this past summer we sat back and enjoyed the new releases that define this quality-driven producer.
Closson Chase and its winemaker, Deborah Paskus, helped spearhead the birth of the Prince Edward County wine industry, using centuries-old European traditions and sustainable, innovative techniques to create world class wines using only the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Wines are made from both PEC grapes and sourced grapes in Niagara.
Our journey on this day also took us to see Bruno Francois (very top photo, and above disgorging some bubbly) and his partner Jens Korberg, proprietors of The Old Third winery, one of my favourite must-visit wineries in the County each time I venture here.
The Old Third’s first vintage was only in 2008 but quickly established itself as one of Ontario’s premier producers of fine Pinot Noir.
It was exciting to visit Francois and Korberg and see that they have branched out to include Cabernet Franc, a Pinot Noir Blanc and a 100% Pinot Noir sparkling wine from 2011 in their growing stable of wines.
Francois disgorged one of their bottles of bubbly to offer us a taste of what’s to come. I can honestly say that I can’t wait until they start selling it next year with a small release and then in stages after that.
If you can’t wait to try it, the Woodlot in Toronto has a small allotment of the bubbly that they will disgorge right at your table.
The bubbly we tried was delicious with a toasty-yeasty nose to go with lemon drop, Melba toast and meringue. So fresh, crisp and perfectly dry (it’s made with zero dosage). You can see Bates’ YouTube video of Bruno disgorging a bottle here.
We also did a drive-by tasting at Hinterland, a sparkling wine specialist, and enjoyed a few wines before the popular destination became overwhelmed with visitors, and dropped in for lunch at the County Cider Company to visit a friend of mine, owner Grant Howes (above, in the apple orchard). We enjoyed a delicious lunch of wood-fired pizza made and tried a selection of some of the finest ciders being made in Ontario.
I did finally make it to Norman Hardie, but just to try one wine, the Pinot Gris, for a story I was working on for a magazine, as the tasting room was packed.
A quick stop at Fifth Town cheese on my out of town to Ottawa completed my quick trip to the County.
Here are reviews of some of the wines tasted during that visit to PEC plus wines I’ve tried since then from the County.
Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay Niagara Beamsville Bench 2010 ($35, 92 points) — Closson Chase is primarily a Prince Edward County wine producer but does make a couple of wines, including this one, from purchased Niagara fruit. It is a spectacular wine with ripe poached pear fruit, pineapple and summer peach to go with opulent spice and butter notes. You get the full weight of the warm vintage here on the palate with lush fruit, caramel, toffee, oak-vanilla and a buttery-toasted note through the finish. There’s enough acid to provide lift and longevity for a few years. It’s a big, showy Chard that will knock your socks off.
Closson Chase CCV Chardonnay 2011 ($30, 91 points) — The Closson Chase Vineyard Chard spends 17 months in French oak but only 10% of it is new. I love the County minerality that melds seamlessly with the citrus-laden marmalade, quince, lime peel, subtle tropical notes and spice on the nose. It lights up on the palate with persistent fruit flavours bolstered by flinty minerality, light toast, spice and energy through a long a finish. Quite a delicious wine.
Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2011 ($40, 91 points) — This is a voluptuous and luxurious Chard with poached pear, peach cobbler, creamy vanilla, toast and a touch of citrus and spice. It’s bold and fleshy on the palate with tropical fruit, peach and pear and laced with minerals, spice, toffee-caramel and length through the finish. Quite approachable now.
Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2010 ($40, 90 points) — Paskus’ strength has always been her Chardonnays, but she is beginning to show her Pinot prowess with each passing vintage. The single-vineyard County Pinot is a pleasurable wine that shows the same restraint with oak as the Chards. The nose displays lovely cherry and cassis fruit with touches of blueberry, mocha, spice and earth. It’s richly textured on the palate with silky tannins, minerality, ripe fruit flavours and great finesse through the finish.
The Old Third
The Old Third Pinot Noir 2011 ($39, 91 points) — I think every time I review the gorgeous Pinots from this winery it’s too late — it’s likely all gone. The Old Third has a reputation among its fans and it usually sells all its stock before fall sets in. And for good reason — it’s simply one of the most consistently good Pinots made in Ontario. The 2011 version is not quite as weighty as the extraordinary 2010 vintage but still quite worthy of your cellar. The nose is appealing for its cherry, cloves, cedar, spice and anise aromatics that pour from the glass. It’s drinking remarkably well right now with fully ripe cherry-raspberry fruit with touches of loam, dired herbs, eucalypt and harmonious spice notes. Old Third Pinots are best described as pretty and delicate with finesse and poise. And the 2011 version fits that bill perfectly.
The Old Third Pinot Noir Blanc 2011, Prince Edward County ($35, 91 points) — This (mainly) Pinot Noir producer believes that white Pinot can be as good as Chardonnay in Prince Edward County. This small lot is barrel fermented and barrel aged in 65% new oak and the result is a gorgeously aromatic white with ripe apricot, pear, butterscotch and toasty vanilla on the nose. It is finely textured with ripe tropical fruits and lovely finesse through the finish.
The Old Third Cabernet Franc 2011 ($38, 90 points) — For a first effort with estate Cabernet Franc from The Old Third, this is quite an accomplishment. Only one barrel was made of this wine and the harvest was culled to less than a half tonne per acre. The same deft touch is evident in this mid-weight and pretty Cab Franc as with the Pinot. It shows a nose of red jam fruit, wild blueberry, integrated herbs and light spice. The fruit is dramatic on the palate, not overdone, and works seamlessly with the spice. It shows finesse and balance through the finish with traces of chocolate and dried herbs.
Rosehall Run ‘The Swinger’ Syrah Cuvee County 2011 ($35, 89 points) — Winemaker Dan Sullivan sources his fruit from the Fieldstone Vineyards planted by Dick Singer in 2002, the only commercial planting of this Rhone variety in the County. The nose is earthy with savoury cherry fruit, white pepper, raspberry and rousing roasted meat and spice notes. It is lighter in colour than you’d expect but surprisingly ripe and in the mouth with lovely texture and a balanced attack of spice.
Rosehall Run Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay JCR 2011 ($30, 90 points) — The nose displays integrated pear, apple and lemon fruit with toasted spices along a vein of minerality. It shows great freshness and verve on the palate with quince and citrus fruit joined harmoniously with the inherent minerality this vineyard consistently delivers. This wine is more about balance than rich, layered fruits, and should bring pleasure for many years to come.
Rosehall Run Cabernet Franc Cuvee County 2011 ($25, 90 points) — Fresh and vibrant nose of savoury cherry, garden herbs, anise and light spice. The flavours are gorgeous in the mouth with lovely bramble, herbs and spice that integrate well with the red fruit and tannins. Nothing over the top here, just a good, solid CF.
And a few others:
Norman Hardie Pinot Gris 2012, Prince Edward County ($25, 89 points) — This oozes that great County minerality to go with crisp apple, lemon-lime and a splash of melon. Such purity of fruit on the palate with a gorgeous vein of crushed stones through the long, crisp finish.
Hinterland Whitecap 2012, Prince Edward County ($22, 88 points) — Hinterland is a sparkling specialist and makes this blend of Vidal, Riesling and Muscat in the Charmat method. A simple and pleasurable sparkler with white peach, apricot, tropical fruits and a squirt of citrus on the nose. It’s fresh and easy drinking on the palate with cleansing acidity.
Hinterland Les Etoiles 2010 ($39, 91 points) — Les Etoiles is a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir made in the traditional method. The nose shows wonderful and complex notes of toast, cream, vanilla, citrus and brioche. It’s rich and concentrated on the palate with smoky notes, lemon zest, Melba toast and persistence through the finish. Heady stuff, but I fear it may already be sold out.
Lacey Estates Gewurztraminer Reserve 2011, Prince Edward County ($25, 88 points) — Oddly, this did not get the VQA stamp of approval, which is a travesty because this is a lovely Gew with a nose of rose petals, grapefruit, musk oil and lemon peel. It’s made with a healthy dose of acidity to balance out all that grapefruit, pear and delicious spice notes. Nice to see a Gewurz made in a perfectly dry style.
Karlo Estates Lake on the Mountain Riesling 2010, Prince Edward County ($22, 90 points) — One of the most expressive Prince Edward County Rieslings I have tasted. It’s barrel fermented in spent (neutral oak) to give it texture in the mouth. It has big, aromatic notes of citrus, peach, apple and underlying spice. There is lots of punch on the palate with citrus pulp, peach, apples and subtle minerality running through the core.