Last weekend, nine Niagara-Ontario-area wineries had a two-day affair showcasing Ontario Pinot Noirs, Here are my impressions of the event. I can't provide detailed tasting notes, since I have lost my sense of smell, and my sense of taste is muted. I'll give my general impressions of the wines though
Ontario is making some [in my opinion] world-class wines from Pinot Noir. They're not in the same league as grand cru Burgundy, but the best can hold their own against village-level, and even a few premier cru Burgundies. Being from a cool-climate growing area, the wines are by-and-large more Burgundian than Californian in style.
There were tastings at all nine wineries, plus a dinner on Saturday night featuring a wine from each of the wineries introduced by the winemaker him/herself. The weekend was a great bargain, since all nine winery tastings (42 glasses of wine) cost $40, and the 6-course dinner with nine wines was $75, tax and tip included. I highly recommend it for anyone in the Great Lakes area. Look for it next October, but book well ahead.
Friday night, we started off with our own private dinner at The Charles Inn, an 1832 inn and restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It's somewhat old-school in style, with an elegant if ever so slightly faded dining room, great food, and attentive service. In my opinion, it's one of the three best restaurants in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area, along with The Stone Road Grill and Treadwell's. It's certainly the most elegant of the three, although The Stone Road Grill has arguably better food. For a wine, we went against the theme of the weekend by opening a bottle of 1982 Léoville-Las-Cases out of our cellar. The wine is holding up beautifully after 30 years – elegant, still lots of gentle fruit, and tannins largely, but not completely, resolved.
Saturday we tasted through the Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries.
Le Clos Jordanne
This was originally a joint venture between Constellation Brands Canada (owners of Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin) and Boisset France, although we were told it is now wholly Canadian-owned (presumably still by Constellation Brands). They grow only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and make what I believe is the finest Ontario Pinot Noir - Le Grand Clos – which we unfortunately did not get to taste that day.
They provided a tasting of their four vineyard-designated wines, all from 2009, with a small sample of food matched to each. They were the 2009 Clos Jordanne Talon Ridge, 2009 Clos Jordanne La Petite Colline, 2009 Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace and 2009 Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard. Of the four, I preferred La Petite Colline and Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard as being a little more Burgundian although, as I said, I think the 2009 Le Grand Clos is their best wine.
Lailley was supposed to provide an extensive walk through the vineyards with the winemaker, Derek Barnett (a personal friend), but the harvest was so early this year that most of the grapes had already been picked. Instead, he gave us a talk in the vineyards, let us taste a few grapes that were still on the vines, and then took us into the cellars. There we tasted their 2011 and 2012 Pinot Noir from barrels. The 2012 was surprisingly drinkable already, even though it had been harvested only 4-6 weeks before.
Finally we had a tasting of their 2004 Lailley Wismer Vineyard Pinot Noir, which was one of the three or four best wines I tasted over the weekend (alas it was long sold out), their 2008 Lailley Old Vines PN, the 2009 Lailley Brickyard PN and the 2010 Lailley Lot 48 PN. The latter is made from their best two barrels, and produces only 48 cases – hence the name. We were told that the Lot 48 is essentially the current name for their old Wismer vineyard bottling.
We tasted the 2007 and 2010 Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir along with a wild mushroom crostini. The wines were pleasant, but not memorable.
They put on an informal tasting of Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, Oregon, New Zealand and three of their own Pinot Noirs, along with accompanying cheeses. They admitted that they stacked the deck somewhat, since they bought Pinot Noirs from the LCBO that were at the price point of their cheapest PN, not a really fair comparison. None of the imported PNs were at all interesting, although the Époisses cheese they served with the Burgundy was wonderful (it's my favourite cheese).
Their 2010 Coyote's Run Red Paw Vineyard PN (grown in red clay soil) and their 2010 Coyote's Run Black Paw Vineyard PN (black clay) were tasted with cheese, and were quite nice (I prefer the Black Paw, but the winemaker prefers the Red Paw). Their 2010 Coyote's Run Rare Vintage Pinot Noir (a mix of their best Pinot Noirs from both vineyards) was even better
The dinner was at Treadwell's, one of the best restaurants in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area. There was a film crew there, doing a feature on the chef for a Discovery channel series (Chef's Place, or something like that), so we all had to sign releases.
The evening started with canapes (ceviche, and two different soups in tiny [espresso?] cups) and Henry of Pelham's NV Cuvée Catherine Rosé. It was a very pleasant sparkling rosé.
Next up was roasted heirloom beets with Feta and dill, accompanied by the 2010 Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2009 Malivoire Alive PN. The Inniskillin was unmemorable, but the Malivoire was very nice.
Third was oven roasted Lake Ontario Trout with oven dried tomatoes and creamed cabbage, with the 2009 Lailley Lot 48 PN and the 2009 Rosewood Wild Ferment PN. These were my two favourite wines of the evening. Coincidentally, I had bought two of the last three bottles of the Lailley for sale at the winery that morning (and I bought some of the Rosewood the next day).
Fourth was potato and lemon gnocchi with autumn mushrooms and truffle butter, served with the 2009 Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard PN and the 2010 Coyote's Run Black Paw PN. Both were nice, but didn't stand up to the two previous wines.
Fifth was crispy skin duck confit with white bean purée and heirloom vegetables, with the 2009 Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace PN and the 2009 Tawse Cherry Avenue PN. Both were quite good, although the Tawse was in a more fruit forward, California-ish style.
Finally we had three sorbets - raspberry, blackberry and another which I forget (without wine), followed by coffee or tea.
Again, it's hard to believe all this food and wine, plus commentary by the winemaker of each wine was only $75, tax and tip included.
Sunday we visited the wineries in the Vineland and Jordan areas:
Henry of Pelham
We just missed meeting Allan Meadows (Burghound) at the winery, who was in Niagara for the weekend to get a feel for Ontario Pinot Noir. We tasted a number of Pinot Noirs, starting with a 1998 then a 2004, two 2007s, three 2009s and two 2010s (sorry, I didn't write down the individual names). We skipped the Cuvée Catherine Rosé since we had it at the dinner, and there were a lot of wines to taste that day. The 1998 was arguably the best wine of the weekend, although the 2004 Lailley Wimer was close, and the 2004 Henry of Pelham was also very good (even new world Pinot Noirs need lots of aging). The woman who was serving us said when the 1998 was new, she wouldn't have recommended aging the wine for more than 5 years, but here it was going great after 14 years. We were told that the 1998 was not from the winery, but from the owners' private cellars and was brought out especially for Allan Meadows. Lucky us, there was some left over.
At Tawse we had a tasting in the cellar following a talk about the mostly organic winery. We tasted the 2007 and 2009 Cherry Avenue PNs and a 2012 barrel sample. The wines were quite good, but they were in a fruit-forward, almost Californian style, which isn't my cup of tea. The owner is a Burgundy lover – in fact he owns part or all of a winery in Burgundy - so it's a little surprising that they make this style.
Rosewood had an interesting tasting. They made half of their 2009 and 2010 harvests using wild yeasts and half using commercial yeasts. The wild yeasts took longer to start fermenting, so the wines ended up with more extract than the commercially inoculated wines.The winemaker was doing the pouring, and invited us to taste the two 2009s and the two 2010s side by side and to guess which were the natural fermented ones.
It was easy to tell the 2009 Rosewood Natural Fermented Pinot Noir from the regular 2009 Rosewood Pinot Noir – the former had stronger and longer flavours, and may have been a little smoother. It was much harder to tell the 2010 Rosewood Natural Fermented Pinot Noir from the regular 2010 Rosewood Pinot Noir, perhaps becausemore the vintage was hotter, and in fact I guessed wrong about this one.
Each wine was served with an appropriate small dish – beet soup, braised beef, some kind of savoury pastry and a sausage for the 2009 regular, 2009 natural, 2010 regular and 2010 natural, respectively.
The 2009 Natural Fermented PN was my favourite of the four, and in fact one of the three wines that that I bought that weekend.
We were given a fascinating talk about the soils of the Niagara area, and why Hidden Bench is located where it is. After, we tasted three of Hidden Bench's wines with the winery owner: the 2009 Hidden Bench Estate PN, the 2009 Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard PN and the 2009 Hidden Bench Locust Lane PN. Of the three, I preferred the Felseck Vineyard. It was quite good, although not enough to buy any, since my cellar is overflowing.
After the wines, we were served a lamb burger and cheese slider. I can't remember what the cheese was – might have been Brie.
Our final stop was at Malivoire for a tasting with the winemaker Shiraz (yes that's really his name!) Motiar and Ed Hughes, one of his growers. We tasted the 2010 Malivoire Hughes PN, the 2009 Malivoire M2 Small Lot PN, the 2009 Malivoire Alive PN and the 2010 M2 Malivoire Small Lot PN. The grower of the grapes for the Hughes PN was there and described how he grew the grapes. All were good, but my favourite was the Hughes Pinot Noir, and I bought some to shoehorn into my cellar.
Following the tasting, we were given samples of carefully matched cheeses from The Cheese Guys, a mobile cheese monger, whose names I forget. We found that the Alive Pinot Noir went well with almost all the cheeses, although it wasn't always the best combination with any individual cheese.
All in all a great weekend. We stayed at on of the 100+ B&Bs in Niagara-on-the-Lake, since it's too far to drive from Toronto every day.
Last edited by Ted Richards
on Sun Oct 21, 2012 6:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.