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Spark plug

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Twenty-Mile Bench VQA 2014, Limestone Ridge Riesling, Spark, Tawse Winery ($24.00, 13216880)
100% Riesling from organically and biodynamically farmed vines in the Limestone Ridge vineyard parts of which were planted as far back as 1999. Manually harvested. Whole-cluster pressed. Fermented in stainless steel tanks. Sparkled using the traditional method. Residual sugar: 12 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Delaney Vins & Spiritueux.


Very pale gold with sunshine glints and a fine bead. Straightfoward nose of apple/pear, lemon zest, lees, pastry cream and pie crust. In the mouth, the mix of fruit (mostly sour apple) and chalk is buoyed by soft fine bubbles. A touch of residual sugar is checked by zingy acidity, which in turn is softened by the light sweetness. Dry and clean on the finish with a lingering briny note. Fresh and uncomplicated, this would make a fine aperitif or summer deck wine. Not exactly a hit with the assembled tasters but I found it bright, bracing, sui generis and enjoyable. (Buy again? Yes, especially at the LCBO, where it runs $20.95.)

MWG February 17, 2017, tasting: flight 1 of 6

Written by carswell

February 28, 2017 at 11:53

Red redemption

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Prince Edward County 2010, Pinot Noir, Diana Block, Grange of Prince Edward ($35.00 at the winery)
100% Pinot Noir, the best lots from the Diana Block vineyard (the other lots go into the Estate and Select bottlings). The vines were planted in 2001 and 2002. Manually harvested and sorted. Alcoholic fermentation lasted 28 days. Matured 30 months in neutral French oak barrels. 13% ABV.
Showed some reductive funk at first, eliciting descriptors like “cherry-eucalyptus cough drops,” “putrescables after a couple of days” and “butterscotch” but soon comeing around. In the mouth, it’s medium-bodied and charming from the get-go. The cherry fruit is silky, the acidity bright, the tannins just firm enough. Minerals provide some depth. The barrels may be neutral but the oak seems a little laid-on, though not to the point of interfering with enjoyment. Could be longer. (Buy again? Maybe.)

Canada 2014, Pinot Noir, The Old Third ($43.00 at the winery)
100% Pinot Noir from the estate’s organically farmed Cloisson vineyard in Prince Edward County. The vines were planted in the mid-2000s. Fermented in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts, then racked into French oak barrels, a fraction of which were new, where it matured for about one year. Bottled unfiltered, unfined and minimally sulphured. 12.5% ABV.
Engaging nose of red berries, spice and clay. Unmistakably Pinot from the first sip but with a striking umami side. The fruit is ripe and rich, tethered by tartness, supported by lithe tannins, shot through with wood and limestone. The long finish brings a red peppery note one taster characterized as “paprika.” Simultaneously earthy and elegant, like a good Burgundy. Hasn’t quite coalesced though the in-glass evolution indicates it will. (Buy again? Yes.)

Prince Edward County 2014, Pinot Noir, County, Unfiltered, Norman Hardie ($45.00 at the winery)
100% Pinot Noir. Given a six- to eight-day cold soak, then fermented seven days with indigenous yeasts and no more than two punch-downs a day. Macerated another week, more or less, with daily turning of the cap. Basket-pressed and transferred to French oak barrels for 10 months’ maturation. Bottled unfined and unfiltered, with a tiny shot of sulphur. 10.9% (!) ABV.
Red berries (strawberry above all), spice, cola, mowed field, hints of tar and cedar – classic, wot? Fresh sweet fruit, glowing acidity, soft tannins, some mineral earthiness, a subtle infusion of oak and the body of a welterweight about sum it up. The most obviously Pinot Noir of the quartet. Lovely if a bit facile, at least at this stage, and the price does give one pause. (Buy again? Maybe.)

Prince Edward County 2014, Pinot Noir, Quatres Anges, Lighthall ($35.00 at the winery)
100% Pinot Noir from estate vineyards. Fermented in temperature-controlled concrete tanks and some French oak barrels. Matured on the lees in French oak barrels. And that is all the winery thinks you need to know… 12.5% ABV.
“Wet dog” and sap aromas give way to cherry with hints of smoke and spice. A delight in the mouth: medium-bodied and silky, fresh-fruited and brightly acidic with fine, structuring tannins and a surprising complexity involving discreet layers of minerals and oak and a faint green streak, more herbal than vegetal and most noticeable on the long, clean finish. Integrated, harmonious and ready to go. For drinking here and now, the winner of the quartet. (Buy again? Def.)

None of the wines was carafed beforehand and all showed better after 40 minutes in the glass. As usual, the tasting was double-blind to everyone except me and the “importer” (blind to us). Those in the dark quickly pegged the wines as Pinot Noir but were perplexed as to their origin, finally settling on “some fictional region between Loire and Jura and like, Jamaica.” Oddly, while there was some initial speculation about Oregon, no one suggested Prince Edward County and most were dumbfounded when the bottles were unveiled. All in all, a well-received flight and coming as quite the relief three weeks after the PEC Cab Franc and Zweigelt debacle.

MWG September 8, 2016, tasting: flight 5 of 6

Written by carswell

November 3, 2016 at 12:32

World class

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Golden Russet Cider 2014, Cuvée Yquelon, The Old Third ($21.00 at the winery)
Made from Golden Russet apples from an orchard near the winery. The fruit is hand picked and sorted. This being a traditional method sparkler, the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. Manually riddled and disgorged. Closed with a cork. 9.5% ABV.
Yeasty nose with some lime and chalk though, surprisingly, only a hint of apple. The effervescence is subdued to the eye, soft and fine in the mouth. Dry and winey, with wafting flavours of underripe pear and “guava” (quoting another taster), ground ginger notes, bright but smooth acidity and a faint tannic bitterness on the sustained finish. Tasting double-blind, several at the table thought this was a wine, not a cider, and it’s easy to see why. (Buy again? Definitely.)

MWG September 8, 2016, tasting: flight 1 of 6

Written by carswell

October 19, 2016 at 13:51

Kung Fu Guy and company

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Prince Edward County 2011, Zweigelt, Pasha’s Elixir, Norman Hardie ($23.00 at the winery)
Not a lot of technical info to be found for this wine. May be a special bottling for Fat Pasha restaurant in Toronto. May also be the last vintage. Possibly 100% Zweigelt. Manually harvested. Vinified with minimal intervention, extended maceration and indigenous yeasts. 10.9% ABV.
Clean nose: inky, spicy blackberry, distant mint and wood. Light- to medium-bodied. Dark fruited, with decent acidity, supple tannins and a mineral vein. The cedary overtones were surprising, the vinegary edge off-putting, though the wine did improve somewhat in the glass. I’d been looking forward to tasting this because, earlier this spring, a half bottle of Zweigelt – in all likelihood the County bottling – given by the winery to a friend for his helping with last fall’s harvest was effin’ delicious. But no one around the table was impressed by this and several were downright dismissive, one dubbing it “Kung Fu Guy: the Kung Fu Girl of red wines.” (Buy again? No.)

Niagara Peninsula 2014, Cabernet Franc, Unfiltered, Norman Hardie ($30.00 at the winery)
100% Cabernet Franc. Manually harvested. Given extended maceration on the skins with daily or more frequent pump-overs. Fermented with indigenous yeasts and regular punch-downs. 12.2% ABV.
Volatile acidity on the nose, along with whiffs of green herbs, dehydrated beef and, quoting other tasters, “roasted red peppers,” “beet like borscht” and “cheap makeup.” Medium-bodied, velvety textured. Decent fruit-acid balance but where are the tannins? Fair length. Meh. (Buy again? Only to check whether ours was an off bottle.)

Prince Edward County 2010, Cabernet Franc, Northfield, Grange of Prince Edward ($35.00 at the winery)
100% Cabernet Franc from 10-year-old estate vines. Manually picked and sorted. Primary fermentation in stainless steel tanks lasted 28 days. Matured 24 months in neutral French oak barrels. Residual sugar: 4 g/l. 13.5% ABV.
Odd nose that eventually settled into plum and beef sukiyaki. Medium-bodied with a lush texture. The core of sweet dark fruit is wrapped in wood and minerals, structured by sustained acidity and light but firm tannins. The fairly long finish brings faint spice and vegetal notes. Not only the best of the trio, it also improved considerably in the glass. (Buy again? Maybe.)

I’ve long felt that Cabernet Franc is the red grape Ontario does best but this flight has me reassessing that position. All three reds, especially the Hardie Cab Franc, were a big disappointment – foul-smelling, disjointed, simple – though the Grange did come around as it breathed. Still, as someone noted, why pay $30 or $35 for OK or worse when the Loire delivers juicy/minerallly deliciousness for $10 or $15 less or tremendous depth, complexity and refinement for about the same price.

MWG August 12th tasting: flight 6 of 8

Written by carswell

September 20, 2016 at 12:06

Data-free sparklers

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Prince Edward County 2011, Blanc de blancs, Culmination, Traditional Method, Lighthall Vineyards ($35.00 at the winery)
Good luck finding technical information about this wine; the winery appears to think only the wines currently available for purchase online deserve mention. 100% Chardonnay. May have been fermented in French oak barrels. May have been matured on the lees in French oak barrels. 12% ABV.
Subdued nose: lemon, “boxwood,” yeast, yellow apple, puff pastry. Assertively fizzy (“almost harsh the bubbles”) but otherwise light, even ethereal. Clean, dry, brightly acidic with just enough fruit and a long tart finish. (Buy again? Sure.)

Canada 2011, Blanc de noirs, À la volée, The Old Third (c. $45.00 at the winery a few years ago)
No mention of this wine is made on the winery’s website. 100% Pinot Noir from the estate’s Prince Edward County vineyard. May have spent 18 months to three years on the lees. May have been manually riddled and disgorged. May be undosed. 12.5% ABV.
Brioche, almond croissant, yellow apple, pear and an oxidized note that one taster termed “rancio.” Rich but not heavy. Softly effervescent with fine bubbles. Rounder, smoother, deeper and better balanced than the Lighthall – technically speaking the better of the two wines – but, oddly, not more interesting. Still, one of the few New World sparklers that can stand comparison with champagne. (Buy again? Sure.)

MWG August 12th tasting: flight 2 of 8

Back in 2012, I wrote:

Trying to find technical information on PEC wines is an exercise in frustration. Want to know if a wine was aged in barrels, what the barrels were made from, who they were made by, what percentage was new? Curious about what grapes in what proportion went into the wine? Wondering what kind of agricultural practices are used? Whether a wine is filtered, fined or sulphured? You probably won’t find many if any answers to those and other technical questions on the winery’s website. Yes, some of these are tiny operations. But others aren’t (looking at you, Norman Hardie). And anyway, winemakers, you have this information. It can be typed up in five minutes. It doesn’t have to be nicely presented; the people interested in it don’t give a damn about formatting. What’s important is that it be available. As things stand now, we’re forced to scour the Web for reviews and reports on winery visits, and even when we find information on blogs or in articles, it’s incomplete and often contradictory.

How discouraging to see the situation remains unchanged.

Written by carswell

September 6, 2016 at 12:51

Terroir or not terroir?

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Cheverny 2014, Envol, Domaine des Huards ($19.95, 12748278)
A blend of Gamay (50%), Pinot Noir (42%) and Cabernet Franc (8%) from biodynamically farmed vines. Manually harvested. The fruit is placed directly into tanks for alcoholic fermentation with indigenous yeasts. Halfway through fermentation, the grapes are pressed. Undergoes full malolactic fermentation. Matured several months in tanks. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Reductive at first, then sweet red berries with hints of sandalwood and slate. Supple, pure and nicely tart. The ripe red fruit sits on slate and is appealingly streaked with green. The slender tannins become a little more prominent on the lip-smacking finish. A refreshing easy-drinker best served cool, this could well be my go-to red this summer. (Buy again? Done!)

Cheverny 2014, Le Pressoir, Domaine Des Huards ($24.00, 11154021)
An 80-20 blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay from biodynamically farmed vines. The grapes are transferred to the vats without pumping. Alcoholic fermentation – with native yeasts – takes place at temperatures up to 30ºC and lasts about a week. The wine is then gently pressed, racked, allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation, oxygenated and racked again with bottling taking place in April or May. The only non-grape product added is small amounts of sulphur dioxide. Reducing sugar: 2.0 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
“Salty-savoury” nose of red fruit, mincemeat and some flinty minerals. Light and juicy in the mouth. Supply structured with tart acidity and fine tannins. Finishes with a cranberry-mineral tang. Probably the best Pressoir since the legendary 2006, though it still doesn’t have the full-on Pinot character that made the earlier wine such a delight. (Buy again? Yes.)

Beamsville Bench 2013, Pinot Noir, Hidden Bench ($35.50, 12582984)
This is the Estate bottling. 100% Pinot Noir from three parcels. Manually harvested. Cold-soaked for five days. Fermented with indigenous yeasts with manual punch-downs three to four times a day. The fermented, free-run juice was gravity fed directly into barrels and the skins were pressed in a basket press. Maturation in French oak barrels lasted around 16 months. Bottled unfiltered and unfined. Reducing sugar: 1.9 g/l. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Le Maître de Chai.
Your typical Pinot mix of red berries, cola and red beet along with oak, sweet spice and a faint chemical note that one taster likened to epoxy. Richer than the Pressoir. Tighter too, with firm tannins and sustained acidity. The fruit is forward though not to excess. Oak flavours dominate – some might say spoil – the finish for now but the wine is young. Pitched between Burgundy and New World, this is suave if a little pricey (too bad it’s not under $30). If you wanted to pick nits, you might note that, however well made, it seems a bit anonymous, doesn’t display terroir in the way that many red Burgundies or even the two Huards do. Then again, that may be why the estate’s flagship line is dubbed the Terroir Series. (Buy again? A bottle to cellar for a year or two to see if the wine digests the oak.)

MWG March 31st tasting: flight 4 of 6

Written by carswell

May 9, 2016 at 13:53

Two dryish Rieslings

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The teaser sent to MWG members prior to the tasting described this flight as “Two aromatic still whites made from the same grape variety. No other connections.”

Kamptal 2013, Riesling, Zöbing, Hirsch ($27.15, 12196979)
100% biodynamically farmed Riesling sourced from several vineyards around the village of Zöbing. The vines average 15 years old. After gentle pressing, the must was allowed to clarify by settling then transferred to temperature-controlled (22°C) stainless steel tanks for fermentation with indigenous yeasts. Screwcapped. Reducing sugar: 4.1 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Avant-Garde.
Lemon/lime, white rocks and an evanescing note of “vulcanized tires.” A faint spritz is apparent on the first sip but soon dissipates. Stony tending to austere though softened by the ripe fruit and touch of residual sugar. Backbone comes from acidity that some described as “aggressive” but I found enlivening. Long, clean finish. A wine to drink with dinner rather than sipping on its own before. Very good if a little overshadowed by the Baker. (Buy again? Yes.)

Vinemount Ridge QVA 2012, Riesling, Picone Vineyard, Charles Baker ($35.50, 12718482)
Some background on Baker here. 100% Riesling from vines averaging 30 to 35 years old and grown in the Picone vineyard. Sees only stainless steel until bottling. Screwcapped. Reducing sugar: 15 g/l. 11% ABV. Quebec agent: Rézin.
Burned match, “naphthalene” and “Fort McMurray” aromas blow off, leaving classic lemon, lime, grapefruit, green apple and quartz. In the mouth, the wine is remarkably pure, deep, intense, balanced and long, packed with fruit and minerals, all carried on a stream of fluent acidity. It’s also drier than most Canadian Rieslings. Evolves and improves in the glass. Really impressive, price notwithstanding (before the bottle was unveiled, I mentioned that this was the most expensive wine of the evening, prompting one taster to joke, “Then it must be Canadian.”). A world-class wine with at least a decade’s aging potential and undoubtedly one of the best Canadian Rieslings ever made. As such, it’s unmissable. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG January 14th tasting: flight 4 of 7

Written by carswell

January 25, 2016 at 12:50