Santé, Australia and Prince Edward County

Santé, Australia and Prince Edward County

Pour a glass of spring riesling (Vineland 2005 Semi-Dry leaps to mind) and read on. It’s a busy time…The 7th annual Santé Food and Wine Festival is underway in the Bloor-Yorkville district this week, featuring a mix of large and small tasting, dinners both grand and intimate, “Sip, Savour and Shop” opportunities and seminars by wine experts. Unlike many traditional wine fairs, this is not an attempt to jam a gazillion wines and people into one room for a few hours, then boast about numbers. Eighty international wineries will be supplying events spread over five days throughout the community—a grassroots graze, albeit in a real green pasture neighbourhood. Perhaps this slightly foreign concept is the reason Santé fails to ignite passions in some. Knowing there was a charity beneficiary might evoke more empathy as well. That said, there is plenty going on, and the open-minded always find food for thought.

Thursday and Friday night are the big taste-around events at the Carlu, the latter designed more as a food and wine matching graze. What winery tables would I head to? The new Niagarans are out in force—Malivoire, Tawse, Flat Rock, Stratus and Fielding. From California, meet some high profile winemakers including Randy Ullom from Kendall-Jackson, Ed Sbragia from Beringer, and Tom Seaver (ex-Jackson-Triggs now at E & J Gallo). From the southern hemisphere, Chile’s Vina Sena, Errazuriz, Cono Sur and Concha y Toro; from Australia, Macaw Creek and Dog Ridge; from Europe, Masi, Villa Sandi and Anselmi of Italy, and both Fonseca and Taylor Fladgate from Portugal. In the what’s-new department, you might also want to take 30 minutes to explore several wineries from Greece.

Among the education seminars next Saturday, I have volunteered to lead New Adults on the Block, focusing on newer Niagara and Prince Edward County wineries, and doubling as an exercise to explore Ontario’s increasingly interesting lighter red wines. The high-end event will feature Wine Access Editor-in-Chief Anthony Gismondi, who is here from Vancouver, to lead a tasting of “Flagship Reds” from various exhibitors. Wine educator Steve Thurlow and Belgian chocolatier Simone Marie Coenen team up on Wine and Chocolate to put a sweet ending on the proceedings.

In Aussie news, Vintages unleashed a deluge of 50 Australian wines on Saturday, following an advance-buy consumer tasting last Thursday. The most important subtext of the release was the huge quality and value of the white wines. Whites are on the rebound across the board at the LCBO, being driven by the very bright, complex, racy sauvignons and semillons, bracing bold riesling and exotic Rhone-inspired viogniers, marsannes and blends thereof. The following picks should be on shelves the morning after, but check the LCBO product search for availability before you shop: Craneford 2005 Vigonier ****1/2 ($16.95 Vintages), Benwarin 2005 Semillon **** ($15.95 Vintages) and MacPherson 2003 Basilik Marsanne Viognier **** ($15.95, Vintages). Among reds, the best high end buy is Jim Barry 2002 McCrae Wood Shiraz ****1/2 ($42.95, Vintages) packing wallop and elegance. Best value red overall is the De Bortoli 2005 DB Petite Sirah ***1/2 ($12.95, Vintages), a cool, sweet, ice cream cone red topped with blueberry and mint.

These were not the only Aussie wines poured in town last week. Three tiers of chardonnay, pinot noir and shiraz-viognier from Yering Station in Victoria’s Yarra Valley were uncorked by Export Director Gordon Gebbie and Toronto agent Charles Jewett of Trilogy Wine Merchants to drum up enthusiasm for consignment offerings and submissions currently before Vintages buyers. Named International Winemaker of the Year at the 2004 International Wine and Spirits Competition, Yering Station wines are marked by more finely woven acidity and elegance than many Aussie wines, due to their origin in the Yarra Valley; a green, semi-urban, Napa-like oasis in rolling land north of Melbourne. It specializes in elegant, cooler climate wines made by folks with urbane sensibilities, including Greg “The Shark” Norman.

Best buy is the Yering Station 2004 Yering Frog Pinot Noir *** ($14.95, Trilogy 416-968-0758). It’s sinewy and taut with tingling cranberry fruit, an ocean spray pinot that lacks the depth and finesse of more expensive portfolio mates, but I like how it grabs, and I envisioned it lightly chilled with a tuna or salmon tartare, maybe even sushi. After dark, I’d prefer to sip the equally well valued, more svelte, oak mocha Yerring Station 2004 Pinot Noir ***1/2 ($19.95 applying to Vintages). The Yerring Station 2003 Pinot Noir Reserve **** ($55.00 Trilogy) is not quite worth double the price, but very fine, layered, savory and elegant, ranking among the best Aussie pinots I’ve encountered. The Yerring Station 2002 Chardonnay Reserve ****1/2 ($55.00 Trilogy) has matured into a beautifully creamy nutty compote with a butter mint quality reminiscent of fine older Burgundies. Outstanding length here.

Another spate of wines was poured by David Muster of the Nathan Lion group which owns small regional wineries in Australia, plus Wither Hills in New Zealand. Hosted by Select Wine Merchants at Splendido restaurant, it featured small plates by Chef David Lee, that were rich and exotic enough to actually overpower some of the meeker Australian wines. Surprise of the day was the food friendliness of the Michelton wines from central Victoria. All seemed rather subdued and introspective without food then came alive at the plate. A quite silky yet lively Michelton Preece 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ***1/2 ($17.95 Vintages) loaded with spearmint and green pineapple flavours worked with Lee’s crabcake set in a Thai curry and pink grapefruit. Likewise, a maturing, elegant Michelton 2001 Crescent GSM **** ($24.95, Vintages) folded beautifully into the flavours of an earthy duck confit. The younger, taut Michelton 2003 Blackwood Park Cabernet Sauvignon **** ($19.95, Vintages) worked in terms of providing juicy vibrancy and refreshment through its bright blackberry fruit.

The St. Hallett range emanating from the hot, dry Barossa Valley were chunkier and richer, except for the St. Hallett 2004 Faith Shiraz ***($19.95, Vintages Wine of Month for May). David Muster explained that it differed from previous Faiths due to the cool 2004 vintage that laid in a taut, tart beam of acidity, and lends a cran-raspberry tone to the fruit (usually more ripe black cherry in Barossa shiraz). The wine is rather shrill now; I’d age it a bit to soften the corners. It was actually too aggressive with the rare, intensely flavoured venison set in an onion sauce. St. Hallett 2003 Blackwell Shiraz ***1/2 (Vintages $28.95) was the better match, its softer ambiance picking up on the tenderness of the venison and creamy onion base. Best wine outright is the beefy St. Hallett 2002 Old Block Shiraz ****1/2 ($49.95 Classics Catalogue May 2006), with a fabulous nose of plum jam, lavender, spearmint and clove aromas that stay focused through excellent length.

And finally, I spent last Saturday night under the glass of the Crystal Palace at the annual Picton Rotary Wine Festival, a glittering affair featuring 100% Prince Edward County grown wines and the culinary musings of County chefs like Michael Sullivan of the Merrill Inn, Michael Potters of Harvest (opening May 13) and Scott Kapitan of Carriage House Restaurant. Best match, based on wonderful subtlety of flavours, was a wild boar terrine and apple cider braised rillette with Black Prince 2005 P
inot Noir Rose ***1/2 ($21.95, sold out)
. Equally fine was a seafood boudin over saffron risotto with the very elegant Huff Estate 2004 Lighthall Chardonnay ***1/2 ($24.95, winery only). Most adventurous and surprisingly effective match was a wonderful Carmela Riesling and pear sorbet with Waupoos Estate 2004 Geisenheim *** ($12.25, winery) from an aromatic, white hybrid that is garnering a lot of local praise even if not on the VQA list of officially authorized grape varieties.

Until the next pour…