Ontario’s Search for a Signature

Ontario’s Search for a Signature

My colleague at The Globe and Mail, Beppi Crosariol, wrote last Saturday that chardonnay and riesling are Ontario’s signature grape varieties—white or red. I agree, to a point, especially about chardonnay, which can be awesome when low-cropped from old vines grown on the limestone-based soils of Niagara and Prince Edward County. Tawse 2004 Beamsville Bench Chardonnay (coming to Vintages Dec. 8) was the nation’s only gold-medal chardonnay at the 2007 Canadian Wine Awards. Riesling can be great as well, but so far I have had fewer great ones than I have chardonnays.

There is evidence however that sauvignon blanc could join that list, especially sauvignon blanc that’s barrel aged in the manner of Graves in Bordeaux, and sometimes blended with sémillon and other varieties. Hidden Bench 2005 Nuit Blanche, a 93-point sauvignon-sémillon blend, has been crowned Canada’s White Wine of the Year by the Canadian Wine Awards (which I gave a rave review to in Toronto Life, June 2007). Alas, it is sold out weeks ago at $40, but two new barrel-aged Niagara sauvignons, which are quality equals, have been released recently and deserve your consideration.

When you add these to the mix of interesting reds and blends below, talk of signature varieties seems premature; indeed, Ontario may go forward with a family of varieties. Most are only available at the wineries, which deliver directly, or from Winery to Home, which represents several Ontario wineries.

Wines of the WeekCreekside 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, Niagara Peninsula ($20.15, 90 points)This is a dynamic example. Very generous, spicy, smoky nose with lavender, nutmeg, pineapple and lime nuances. Medium-full bodied, creamy and exotic, with great acidity drying nicely on the finish with some green tea, wood tannin, sap and loads of spice. Excellent length. Available at Creekside Estate Winery.

Peninsula Ridge 2006 Fumé Blanc Reserve, Niagara Peninsula ($21.95, 90 points)One hundred cases have been pre-released at $5 less per bottle than what the price will be after the full release in 2008. Gentle rich nose of butterscotch, caraway, herbs, lime, tobacco and gooseberry. Very elegant, smooth and delicate with a touch of sweetness. Acid is a touch low; excellent focus and length with a sappy, warm, lemony finish. Excellent to outstanding length. Available at Peninsula Ridge.

Other Niagara Releases$15 to $25Château des Charmes 2006 Gamay Noir Droit, St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, ($16.95, 90 points) Very different from most Niagara and French interpretations of gamay (the Beaujolais grape). More depth, colour and terrific balance in this vintage. Lifted nose of white pepper, twiggy forest notes, cinnamon and florality. Medium bodied, fairly dense for gamay. Well balanced, with very spicy, dill, rosemary flavours. Excellent length. Best 2008 to 2012. Available at Winery to Home.

Featherstone 2005 French Oak Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula, ($17.15, 88 points) Good value in chardonnay with full-blown flavours and textural restraint. Quite deep yellow-gold colour. Fairly sweet nose of caramel, tobacco, dried fruit and dried hay. Medium-full bodied; fairly viscous but tempered by good acidity; a bit oaky. Has some power and serious weight but not too sweet or too intense. Excellent length. Available at Winery to Home.

Creekside 2006 Laura’s Blend White, Niagara Peninsula ($18.15, 87 points)This joins the wave of multi-varietal blends sweeping Niagara and the New World. Combines sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot gris, viognier, muscat and riesling—partially aged in older barrels for a touch of spice. Quite intense floral, jasmine and clove nose with vague yellow pear-plum fruit. Medium weight; viscous; spicy palate with some lemon-grapefruit on the finish. Very good length. Available at Creekside Estate Winery.

Creekside 2005 Laura’s Blend Red, Niagara Peninsula, ($20.15, 88 points)This blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc (the Bordeaux varieties) was aged 21 months in barrels. Impressive deep bright garnet colour. Lifted bouquet features classic lead pencil, dried currants, herbs (basil and rosemary), woodsy aromas and a touch of chocolate. Medium-full bodied; fleshy with a seam of high acidity and greenness. Some mid-palate sweetness then a dry, pencil lead finish. Very good length. Available at Creekside Estate Winery.

Tawse 2006 Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario ($20.20, 90 points, 55103)Powerful dry riesling made in Alsatian style. Classy aromas have touches of floral prettiness, ripe peach fruit accented with lemon and lime, plus riesling’s classic petrol and minerality. Medium-full bodied, well balanced, vibrant and focused, with some rounding sweetness. Very good to excellent length. Vintages. Largest stock (56 bottles) at Bayview and Sheppard.

$25 to $50Lailey 2006 Syrah, Niagara River ($25.15, 88 points)A rather snazzy, sneezy, very spicy syrah. Fairly deep ruby colour. Very lifted, peppery, charcoal, caper-dill, chocolate, lead pencil nose with some blackcurrant fruit. It’s mid-weight, slender, grippy and dry. Very focused; spicy, peppery, toasty finish with excellent length. Needs a few months to relax a little. Best 2008 to 2012. Available at Winery to Home.

Tawse 2004 Cabernet Franc, Niagara Peninsula ($25.20, 88 points, 55079)Not quite as successful as Tawse’s 2002, which took top cab franc at the 2005 Canadian Wine Awards—this is missing some heft of that vintage. But this should appeal to cab franc fans with classic raspberry, tea, celery burnished by oak spice and coffee. Light to mid-weight, slightly tart and juicy, with some tannin and cab franc leaf on the finish. Excellent length for its size. Vintages. Largest stock (69 bottles) at Bayview and Sheppard.

Niagara College 2006 Dean’s List Chardonnay, St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($28.15, 91 points)South African-trained winemaker Terence Van Rooyen has taken over from Jim Warren as the wine prof at the College. Great nose—all kinds of lift—with peat smoke, apple-pineapple, lemon, hot garlic cheese bread, clove and tobacco. Very flattering, but not over-the-top sweet or oaky either. Medium-full bodied with striking intensity and a sweet and sour palate. Excellent focus and length. Available at Winery to Home.

Creekside 2005 Broken Press Shiraz, St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($32.95, 89 points)Sourced from the warmer St David’s sub-appellation in a ripe year, this has unusual depth of colour and aromatic ripeness. Almost floral mulb
erry and plummy nose is rare for Niagara, inlaid with chocolate, wood spice and a fleeting glimpse of syrah’s black pepper. Medium-full bodied, dry and chewy. Acid is a touch volatile and sour; tannin is big as well—not green but gritty. Sinewy stuff; very good to excellent length. Available at Creekside Estate Winery.