This is the most useless, obvious, ridiculous, innate, shallow, over-stated and silly statement I have ever made (and the bar is already pretty low on that, I’ll admit), but …
I love Riesling.
I really, really love Riesling.
But, hell, who doesn’t? Everyone loves Riesling. And if there is someone out there who says they don’t, just wait, they will come around eventually, they always do. Once they are smitten they never let go.
So, there I was, tasting potential wines for Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) Experts Tasting, a judging position that I have been invited to attend a few times now, and the ever-engaging flight of Rieslings appeared before us. My senses did a happy dance.
It’s a long process, with tastings conducted over three Fridays, with an awful lot of spirited debate sprinkled in. Our task was to choose the top 6 or 7 wines for four flights and an “options” flight that is presented to invited wine and industry professionals at Brock’s Experts Tasting. This is not a room of pushovers. They know their stuff.
For the 2014 event, held March 1, the theme was a retrospective on Ontario wines (older vintages encouraged) across a few of the main varieties and styles including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, red blends, Riesling and the “options” flight, which is simply included to provide an outlet for high-scoring wines that showed unique qualities.
Which brings me all the way back to where we started: Riesling.
Nowhere else is individual style more apparent than within Riesling, and that’s because it is made in so many different ways: Sweet, semi-sweet, bone dry, super sweet, austere, fleshy, mineral-laced, fat, juicy, oaked, with dried grapes, stirred on the lees, sussreserve, picked early, picked late (or a combination), minimalist intervention (lots of intervention!), vineyard specific, block specific, appellation specific, simple and any combination of the above.
It’s always an honour and a pleasure to help the energetic and hard-working Barbara Tatarnic (that’s her below!), who goes above and beyond to co-ordinate and execute the Experts Tasting every year. It’s a big job. The tasting part is easy, herding and getting consensus from all those strongly opinionated individuals in one room and then organizing a tasting the size of the Experts is where the hard work is done. She does all the work and gets very little of the glory. The other judges on the panel included Derek Barnett (Lailey), Peter Bodnar Rod (PBR Consulting), Linda Bramble (wine journalist), Carole Davies (LCBO), Peter Gamble (winemaking consultant), JL Groux (Stratus), Belinda Kemp (Brock), Craig McDonald (Trius), Richie Roberts (Fielding), Barclay Robinson (Foreign Affair) and James Treadwell (Treadwell).
When it came time to divvy up duties for the Experts Tasting and someone put my name forward to present the Riesling flight, well, that was like asking a chocoholic if they’d like to tour the Lindt Chocolate factory. Ah, that would be a big YES!
Sometimes you agree to something then realize: What have I gotten myself into. I am not a public speaker. The people I’m talking to know a lot more about wine than I do, hell they make it, sell it, grow it and stake their livelihoods on it. I’m just a wine consumer with a website and a pen. If they are not engaged I am doomed. I did not want to be doomed.
So I researched, drank, drank some more, talked to Riesling producers and devised a plan (it made perfect sense in my own head, even it didn’t to others). It always comes down to acidity for me with Riesling, and that playful tug between sweet and tart, the tension, the minerality and the fresh fruit. This is what I presented, or what I meant to present (because things don’t always go as planned) for the Riesling flight at CCOVI’s Experts Tasting on March 1.
Don’t you just LOVE the smell of Riesling in the morning??
I know I do. I love the smell in the morning. I love it at noon, in the afternoon by the pool, in the evening and sitting by the fire all winter long. I simply love Riesling. Anytime, anywhere.
And not just any old Riesling. I’m talking about Ontario Riesling. The Rieslings in front of you right now.
What is it about these Rieslings? Why do we love them? What makes them great?
I look at Riesling like this:
(rips off black dress shirt, reveals Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced T-shirt and straps on a Rock Band Wii plastic guitar)
On the one end of the tug-o-war that is Riesling is Jimi Hendrix.
Wild, electrifying, taut, nervy, soul-baring in a somewhat disjointed wail of piercing guitar licks and bad-ass lyrics. Jimi lived on the edge; it is what made him great. But he could have used some love, some sweetness in his life.
Jimi was hard-core, spontaneous, and brought tension whenever he performed. He represents the far end of Riesling, the foundation, the searing acidity, the well-defined minerality, the backbone, if you will.
(puts on miniature Taylor Swift sequined purple cowboy hat and purple star-shaped sunglasses … my daughter said this would work!!)
On the other end of Riesling is, say, Taylor Swift (NOTE: I had a bit more trouble finding representation on the other end of the Riesling scale, but somehow settled here. Feel free to sub-in Van Morrison, Eric Clapton or even Annie Lennox, if Swift isn’t doing it for it).
She brings sweetness, polish and a softening tone to the party. She rounds out the rough edges. But, as we all know, doesn’t handle relationships all that well. She doesn’t play nice with others.
Great Riesling lives somewhere in the middle of Jimi and Taylor in a place that’s all about balance, a balancing act between taut and edgy and sweet, ripe and pretty. You could call that happy middle ground Bruno Mars.
So, imagine Jimi on one end tugging on a rope playing his guitar with his teeth and singing the Are You Experienced and Taylor Swift tugging on the other end looking all glamorous and sweet and singing We Are Never Getting Back Together Again? This is Riesling.
They are trying to meet somewhere in the middle, in Bruno territory.
It is that epic battle that makes Riesling so great; trying to find the middle ground between Jimi and Taylor, always looking for balance between that natural acidity, minerality and pretty aromatics.
Riesling is the perfect vehicle to show off the terroir of the sub-appellations in Niagara and even the vineyards and single blocks within those vineyards. We have the dirt, the climate and the winemaker’s personal style to offer consumers something special, something to talk about, that little something called terroir.
Look no further than the fascinating single-vineyard wines from 30 Bench on the Beamsville Bench, an exercise in terroir-driven Rieslings played out vintage after vintage, for evidence of terroir.
The Steel Post, Wood Post and Triangle, from 30-year-old vines, and planted rather arbitrarily back in the day. In the vineyard, there is little clue as to why this trilogy of wines taste profoundly different from one another. They are made exactly the same way and picked at the same time yet all express different flavours. Ask winemaker Emma Garner what differentiates the three Small Lot Riesling wines and she’ll tell you it simply comes down to vine stress. “The biggest difference is the water retention ability of the soil.” What? That’s crazy.
On the Twenty Mile Bench at Vineland Estate’s St. Urban Vineyard, winemaker Brian Schmidt made a trio of Rieslings called Expressions in D from a single block within the vineyard with the only difference being where in the vineyard they were picked. Late sunshine, early sunshine and somewhere in between produced three wines that were all made exactly the same but were all very different by the time they were bottled. That’s terroir, friends, pure and simple.
Unique, utterly profound Rieslings are many in Niagara. From the old vines planted in 1978 by Paul Bosc of Chateau des Charmes, to the stunningly beautiful partially botryised Rieslings at Ravine in St. Davids Bench, to the single-vineyard, single-block Rieslings of both Tawse and Hidden Bench. From the iconic CSV Rieslings at Cave Spring to the age-worthy Rieslings made at Henry of Pelham, there is so much to love and so much diversity and personality in Niagara Rieslings.
So, let’s get to it. I think the Rieslings we have chosen for today’s tasting are a good representation of Jimi Hendrix meets Taylor Swift, an unlikely scenario, even if Hendrix were alive today, but one with some pretty spectacular potential.
At the end of the day you have to ask yourself, do you like your Rieslings more Jimi or Taylor?
The Experts Tasting
Are You Experienced?
Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012:
Charles Baker created Ontario’s first “virtual” winery in 2005 for the sole purpose of making vineyard specific Niagara Rieslings. He had no idea where he wanted to source his first vintage of Riesling from but met Chef Mark Picone who mentioned he had a small seven-acre vineyard on the western edge of the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation, very close to the Twenty Mile Bench on Moyer Road (think Megalomaniac, Vineland, Tawse, in that area).
Baker attributes his immediate success to the 30-year-old vines planted in clay limestone soil, perfect for Riesling, and the airy, well-exposed vineyard that sits high on the escarpment and provides disease-free vines even in the wettest vintages.
Baker prefers a drier style for Picone Vineyard. He likes the floral, herbaceous (in a good way!) and mineral notes in the wine and terrific acidity. The residual sugars are kept to about 14 g/l, which is balanced out by the racy acidity.
Baker operates out of Stratus Vineyards, where he is also marketing director. He makes the wine with Stratus winemaker JL Groux.
Rosewood Estate Riesling 2011:
From the estate vineyard on the Beamsville Bench that can be seen from the winery’s front d,oor with 30 Bench across the street on Mountainview Road. Made from relatively new vines, planted in 2003, but already showing some of the great attributes of Beamsville Bench, site-specific Rieslings.
• Made from the Weis 21 clone with 10.5 g/l and 9.2 g/l acidity.
• Clay/loam and limestone soil
• Winemaker was Natalie Spykowski (since departed)
Rosewood has put a lot of energy into stylistic Rieslings with this nearly dry offering augmenting a Suss-reserve style made with more RS. It is bright and clean with beeswax, wet-stone, juicy, racy acidity, fresh-squeezed lemon juice and good balance. Also, very clean.
Ravines Wine Cellars Argetsinger Vineyard Riesling 2011,
This wine from the Finger Lakes was thrown into the flight as a ringer. It fit seamlessly into the flight and few, if anyone, picked it out as a ringer.
From one of the finest single vineyards in the Finger Lakes from what I feel is the best producer of Riesling in that emerging region.
Morten Hallgren’s Rieslings are defined by their sharp edges, that steely, citrusy and mineral-laden quality that runs deep through each of his wines.
The inspiration and fruit for Ravines’ greatest expression of Riesling comes from a coddled vineyard overlooking Senaca Lake called Argetsinger, named after Sam Argetsinger (in the photo above), the colourful grower who owns it and spends most of waking hours nurturing it.
This is a Riesling that shows its teeth with pronounced mineral-slate, floral and citrus notes.
• Bone-dry style with 3 g/l and 9.1 g/l TA
• Made from the Geisenheim 198 clone (the only clone of the flight that wasn’t 21)
• Soil at this site is hard gravel over highly acidic limestone.
• Vineyards are 30 years old.
• Vineyard produces very small berries, two tons per acre (max), all hand-harvested, whole berry pressed with a small portion fermented in large neutral oak barrels primarily to round out the rigid core of acidity in these wines.
Says Hallgren, “I’m not looking for peachy-tropical notes in my Rieslings.” He wants more citrus, minerality and serious wines high in acid. He wants them to age for decades or more and realizes his wines are disjointed upon release, even holding them back a vintage or two.
The Argetsinger shows pronounced mineral-slate, floral, citrus nose. It’s very focused and firm on the palate with racy acidity and tart-juicy fruits.
The Foreign Affair Riesling 2010
• Weis clone 21
• From the Beamsville Bench
• 20% appassimento grapes
• Fermented and aged in stainless steel
• Harvested in early October 2010
• RS = 19.4g/L
• TA = 8.3g/L
This stood out in our blind tasting because it showed some weight and texture on the palate with distinct minerality and a light spice note. Nicely balanced.
Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2009
This was generally a horrid year for most red wines (Pinot Noir being the exception) with cool temperatures and rain, rain, rain and more rain until Labour Day when the sun came out for 6-8 weeks. That was just enough time to bring out the best in a lot of Niagara Rieslings from that vintage.
• Horrible yields from aggressive thinning, 1.1 tons per acre
• 27 g/l RS but “held every gram in balance,” said Baker, because of the beautiful natural acids the vintage delivered.
A juicy core of highly extracted fruit on the nose with an underlying vein of minerality, earth and just a hint of petrol starting to emerge. It’s fleshy yet vibrant with a wonderful tug-of-war going on between sweet and tart fruit on the palate. It has layers of citrus fruits, quince and riverbed minerality.
Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2006
Again, another vintage that suffered from cool, rainy weather but it ended up being one of Bakers’ favourite Rieslings: “In my opinion 06 was a benchmark for Niagara Riesling.”
• 25 g/l residual sugar, 9.5 TA, 11% ABV.
• Baker says that this vintage of Picone should have been dominated by its sweet texture but it turned out well with complex with fruit and minerals balanced perfectly with racy acidity.
• The wine was made entirely from free run juice, the bladder wasn’t inflated at all during pressing.
Baker’s recipe for all his Rieslings is simple: Late pick, intense sorting, free run juice only, inoculate, ferment, left on the less over to the new year, bottled in spring. “Ta-da!”
Cave Spring Cellars CSV Riesling 2003
Simply put, Cave Spring put Niagara Riesling on the map. Its iconic Cave Spring Vineyard, located on the eastern stretches of the Beamsville Bench, delivers some of the most interesting and long-aged Rieslings in Canada from two of the oldest parcels (40 years old, in some cases) in the vineyard.
When Cave Spring set out to make an iconic Riesling that would turn heads and be built to last they knew they needed to start with old vines. They found that in what is now known as the Cave Spring Vineyard with the first vintage of CSV in 1999 made from vines 20-25 years old. “We wanted to make a Riesling with stuffing,” Angelo Pavan told me.
Paven strives to make Rieslings with a big, full mouth, a wine with texture. “You want to be able to chew your wine, almost,” he says.
2003 stands out as a brilliant effort, not only because it is, but also in light of the short crop that resulted from a horribly cold winter. Pavan remembers other winemakers driving by Cave Spring during the summer months and seeing him thinning in the vineyard. It was a luxury most could not afford.
• CSV is buffeted by the Escarpment and provides just enough warmer weather in tough winter conditions to protect it from bud damage.
• Weis clone. 27 g/l of RS, 9.3 TA
• Wines are built to age at least a decade, maybe two.
• One of the few Niagara wineries that has solid distribution in the U.S. and gets the attention of the Wine Spectator with regular positive reviews for its Rieslings.
The other flights during the Experts Tasting included:
The New ABC, Appealing Balanced Chardonnay,
presented by James Treadwell, sommelier,
Treadwell Farm-to-Table Cuisine.
Wines presented in the flight included Flat Rock Cellars Estate Chardonnay 2012, Fielding Estate Chardonnay 2012, G. Marquis Vineyards Silver Line Chardonnay 2011, Kittling Ridge Chardonnay 2012, Cave Spring CSV Chardonnay 2010, Rosewood Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2009 and Stratus Vineyards Chardonnay 2010.
You’ve Been Pinot’d, presented by Belinda Kemp,
senior scientist in oenology, CCOVI
Wines presented in the flight included Tamar Ridge Pinot Noir Devils Corner 2012 (ringer from Tasmania), Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Gravity 2012, Inniskillin Estate Pinot Noir Reserve 2011, Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Le Grande Reserve 2011, 13th Street Essence Pinot Noir 2010, Fielding Estate Pinot Noir Jack Rabbit Flats Vineyard 2010, The Foreign Affair Pinot Noir 2009.
Red Road-test — Are We On the Right Track,
presented by Craig McDonald, head winemaker
Trius Winery at Hillebrand
Wines presented in the flight included Konzelmann Heritage Reserve 2012, Trius Red 2011, Fielding Estate Cabernet-Merlot 2010, Trius Grand Red Four Mile Creek 2011, Stratus Vineyards Red 2007, Creekside Meritage 2004, Henry of Pelham Cabernet Merlot Reserve 2002.
Wine Options, presented by Peter Bodnar Rod,
wine educator, PBR Consulting Inc.
Wines presented in the flight included Stratus Vineyards Chardonnay 2009, Rosewood Estates Pinot Noir 2011, North Shore Project Syrah Lake Erie North Shore 2012 (ringer), Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2010, The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2012.
VQA Promoters Awards
Six of the wine industry’s top promoters were recognized last weekend at Brock University for their contributions in the promotion of VQA wine.
The VQA Promoters Awards were announced Saturday at the Experts Tasting hosted by Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI). The awards acknowledge individuals who celebrate the Ontario VQA wine industry with unselfish enthusiasm, constructive input and unsolicited promotion.
Shawn McCormick’s passion to promote Ontario wine started in an unlikely place. After one too many wrong turns down country roads in Prince Edward County looking for local wineries, McCormick decided that there was a need to create and develop an app that guides users through Ontario wine country.
The free Uncork Ontario app he developed has now been downloaded over 2,000 times and is just one of the reasons McCormick was recognized with this year’s promoter-at-large award.
Wine writer David Lawrason, this year’s recipient in the media category, took the opportunity to share his pride in what was happening in the Canadian wine industry at the award ceremony.
“We are really onto something here in Canada,” Lawrason said. “If I do nothing else, I want to get everyone on that same page to know that we have to go out into the world now, as a country working together, to do whatever it takes to present one clear message that we are all about quality wines.”
The 2014 winners in each category are:
Hospitality: Erik Peacock, chef, Wellington Court restaurant
Peacock was recognized for his work promoting VQA wines on his menu at Wellington Court along with the time he has donated at many wine festivals and events.
Media: David Lawrason, wine writer
Lawrason has been a wine writer, educator and judge since 1986. Lawrason is a former wine columnist for The Globe and Mail, and currently writes for Toronto Life and Ottawa Magazine.
LCBO: William Mancini, LCBO product consultant at the Toronto Kingsway store
Mancini was recognized for the work he does promoting Ontario wine, which has resulted in his store being the number one seller of Ontario wine at the LCBO.
LCBO: David Churchill, awarded posthumously
Churchill dedicated his life to learning about and promoting Ontario wine through various roles at the LCBO, including working as the writer and researcher of Vintages magazine. Churchill passed away, April 5, 2013. His wife Rose accepted the award in his memory.
Promoter-at-Large: Shawn McCormick, uncorkOntario.com
McCormick was honoured for his work creating the Uncork Ontario app as well as the creation of the Great Canadian Wine Challenge (#TGCWC), and for starting and hosting the weekly Ontario wine chat on Twitter (#ONWineChat). Click here for a good post from Krista Lamb on Shawn.
Lifetime achievement: Lloyd Schmidt, viticulturist
Schmidt was recognized for his dedication to the advancement of the domestic wine industry in both British Columbia and Ontario. He worked as a viticulturist, a consultant, and for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).