Sunday, March 26, 2017

Digging into Canadian Wines: Ontario

Most of my experience with Canadian wine has come through random ice wines thrown into holiday tastings, and the stray Pinot Noir or Riesling that shows up in a larger group of bottles. But I had never sat down to a formal tasting of Canadian wines until recently, when my friend Aaron Mendenberg, who blogs at Good Vitis, cracked up two dozen bottles from Ontario.

I’m not going to fully re-hash what he has already so fully detailed in this post, but I did find this to be an educational tasting. Almost all of these wines came from the Niagara Peninsula, which, as its name indicates, juts out from the Niagara region into Lake Ontario. This area has 10 sub-appellations, known indicated by the various “VQA” designations you’ll see on Canadian wine bottles. This area of far southern Ontario seems full of interesting soils and unique micro-climates, with vineyards planted on the south shore of Lake Ontario and buttressed directly to the south by Lake Erie.

Overall, these wines were all over the place. From absolutely delicious and very impressive, to undrinkable and faulty, and in the middle I found some wines with squandered potential. That said, there’s a lot to like about the lower alcohol, higher acidity, tangy fruit-driven wines of this region. These wines beg for seafood and salads and charcuterie.

Below are my notes on the wines I tasted.

2014 Norman Hardie Chardonnay - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula VQA
Smells like peanut shell, limes, sea salt. Brisk and lean, a bit austere, with limes, lemons and green apples. Hints of nut and chalk. Finishes like tonic water. 12.4% alcohol. (84 points)

2014 Norman Hardie Chardonnay County - Canada, Ontario, Prince Edward County VQA
More floral aromas with white peaches and lemons. Brisk and light (11.4% alcohol), this is kind of watery and light. Cucumber and lemon water mixed with limes and dusty chalk. Could be nice well-chilled with oysters but very light. (84 points)

2012 Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay The Rusty Shed - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench VQA
Aromas of lemon water, cucumber, nectarine and soapy notes. Creamy, leesy texture but fresh acidity, a little more weight at 13.5% alcohol, rounded out a bit more. Limes, apples, apricot, some floral and soapy notes. Not too deep but more balanced. (86 points)

2013 Bachelder Chardonnay Wingfield Block Wismer Vineyard - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench VQA
A bit more golden color. Aromas of white and yellow flowers, peaches, juicy apples, a deeper, more complex nose than the other Chardonnays. Bright and zesty but shows more depth and juiciness, pleasant creaminess, too. Nectarine, peach, lime, notes of sea breeze and white pepper. A more complete wine, and very delicious. It really opens up with air. 13.5% (89 points)

2013 Southbrook Winery Chardonnay Poetica - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Four Mile Creek VQA

2013 Stratus White - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA
So peachy and tropical on the nose, also some chalk dust and new Lego set scents. Plump and pleasant texture, less acidity (comparatively) but still fresh. Honey butter, peaches, guava, some toasted nut notes. A blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Viognier, but if tasted blind I would have guessed a white Rhone blend. (87 points)

2013 Charles Baker Riesling Stratus - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Vinemount Ridge VQA
Aromas of juicy peaches , orange, lilies, new plastic toy. Light and very lean on the palate with peaches and limes and a bit of chalk. Not much depth, quite dry (10.1% alcohol), perhaps a bit more residual sugar would have fleshed this out a bit more? Still fun though. (84 points)

2015 Cave Spring Riesling Cave Spring Vineyard - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench VQA
Smells like a freshly opened can of tennis balls with sliced white peaches dropped in. Bright acidity, a bean lean in texture (11.5% alcohol). Orange peel, some peach nectar, the fruit is a bit light and hidden, some notes of chalk and white pepper. Simple but pleasant, yet I find myself again thinking a hint more sugar could round this out. (84 points)

2016 Malivoire Pinot Noir Rosé Moira Vineyard - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench VQA
Palest copper color. Smells like banana and peach yogurt. Chalky, weedy, like underripe strawberries with the greens tossed in. Weird. Tastes like this was a regular Pinot whose fermentation got stuck, so they tossed in a random yeast to see what would happen, and not much good happened.

2015 Southbrook Winery Vidal Orange Wine - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA
Smells like an austere Basque cider mixed with brettanomyces. Dry, bitter lemon and orange pith, some honey, grapefruit peel. Biting, bitter, off-putting. I’m a big fan of many a strange orange wine, but this is just awful.

2015 Malivoire Gamay Small Lot - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench VQA
Smells like juicy cranberries, raspberries and rose petals. Darker fruit on the palate, more black cherry, showing bright acidity and structured tannins. Notes of roses and earth. Simple but refreshing. (85 points)

2015 13th Street Gamay Noir - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Niagara Peninsula VQA
The 13th Street Gamays were surprisingly delicious and very impressive.
Dark cherry colored. Smells like black cherries, Swedish fish, beef jerky, black pepper dust. Fresh acidity meets structured tannins in this well-balanced wine, which shows black cherries and juicy plums. Notes of tar, wild boar, gravel. Drops off a bit too quickly but this is put together quite nicely and shows some classic Gamay qualities while being an interesting and unique interpretation. (87 points)

2014 13th Street Gamay Noir Estate Sandstone - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Four Mile Creek VQA
Smells of juicy red cherries, violets and beef jerky. Grippy tannins, surprisingly so, but refreshing acidity balances nicely with juicy, dark cherry fruit. Complex elements of loamy soil, tar, minerals and peppered steak. Complex, good cellar potential, a very good Gamay from vines planted in 1983. (88 points)

2012 Malivoire Pinot Noir Mottiar - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench VQA
Smells like rubber and cherry pits and tar. Bizarre on the palate, it tastes like ground-up cherry pits and bitter cherry skins. Some tar and pepper notes. Strange, unbalanced, not particularly faulted but I couldn’t figure this wine out at all.

2013 Bachelder Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyards
- Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, St. David's Bench VQA
Aromas of strawberries, cranberries, rhubarb, white pepper and cinnamon. Juicy and bright with light tannins and crisp acidity. A nuanced style with bright red cherries and tart strawberries, backed up with notes of tar and tobacco. Fun stuff, not too deep, this could likely improve with a few years in the cellar. (87 points)

2015 Cave Spring Pinot Noir - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Niagara Escarpment VQA
Love the nose: bright, juicy cherries and strawberries, with rose petals and darker, savory herbs and spices. Medium-bodied (12.5%), structured so well with firm tannins and bright acidity. Tart cherries and juicy red plums mix nicely with cocoa, clove, tobacco, floral perfume and loamy soil. Impressive, and should improve for quite a few years in the cellar. (88 points)

2012 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Gravity - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench VQA
Nose of cherries, sweet clove and campfire smoke. Juicy and fresh with medium/light tannins and moderate acidity. Dark roasted cherries and plums (darker than the nose suggests) with notes of mulling spices and toasted notes. Fun and tasty, but a bit too brazen on the oak for my palate. (86 points)

2014 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir
 - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench VQA
Funky nose of broth and pepper on top of cherries and strawberries. Medium tannins and acidity with dark cherry and plum skin flavors, along with wet earth, dusty cellar and toasted oak. Fun and juicy but a bit too toasty and smoky for the depth of the wine. (85 points)

2015 Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Unfiltered - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Niagara Peninsula VQA
Smells of roses, rhubarb, cranberries – quite pretty. Fresh and light on the palate with light tannins and bright acidity. Red cherries, strawberries, rhubarb, floral tea. Juicy, vibrant, tasty. (86 points)

2014 Norman Hardie Pinot Noir County - Canada, Ontario, Prince Edward County VQA
Wild and brothy on the nose. Soft tannins on the palate, fresh acidity, juicy red cherries and rose petals. Lots of brett in this wine, so a bit too many band-aids in the horse pen, but not undrinkable.

2012 Tawse Pinot Noir Cherry Ave Vineyard - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench VQA
Interesting scents of cherry pits, olive juice, violets and dark soil. Well-built with tannins and bright acidity. Dark cherries and plum fruit, fresh and juicy, with notes of wet earth, soy, coffee, charred wood. Delicious and fun but could improve with a few years in the cellar. (87 points)

2013 Stratus Cabernet Franc - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA
Smells like dark cherries and blackberry jam topped in celery seed and asparagus, but it actually works quite nicely. Dark and fleshy on the palate with saucy dark fruit on a frame of structured tannins and medium/low acidity. Brambly, peppery, topped in celery seed. Really opened up with a few hours and started getting more expressive. Interesting stuff. (87 points)

2012 Stratus Red - Canada, Ontario, Niagara Peninsula, Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA
Smells of bloody steak on top of plum cake, dark currants and magic marker. Dark and plummy on the palate, a bit more fleshed out and complete than the Cab Franc from this producer. I get structured tannins, moderate acidity, dark and saucy black fruit. Notes of loam, pepper, charred wood and cocoa add significant complexity. This should improve well for at least a few years. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Tannat. (88 points)

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