Monday, March 26, 2007

Report from: Toronto Wine and Cheese Show 2007

Toronto is in a very lucky position. They get all those country/region specific wine shows and fairs that making the tour of the country (or at least the big city centers), like Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, California – you name it Toronto gets it. If you’re a fan of any specific country’s wine sooner or later, and each year, Toronto will have a show dedicated to your country of choice and it’s wines. Of course this spells doom and gloom for the Toronto Wine and Cheese show’s attendance. Many have asked me “why would I go to a show that features everything when I only like [put your favourite winemaking country here]’s wine?” And I’ll say to you that you have just answered your own question – it’s a show that features everything, a way for you to find something new. The Toronto Wine and Cheese Show is a great event for people who want to experience wine on a global scale. If you’re a lover of wine it is one show you should attend. Whether you think of yourself as an Oz-ophile, a Kiwi-junkie, a Cali-lover, a New York-denizen, a Spain aficianado, a South African inspired drinker or an Italy-loving-totaler … you can find so much more at the show, and you might be surprised to find out what else you like. And best of all it gives you the chance to try before you buy. Instead of spending that $15 on a South African Pinotage give it a go for 2 tickets … Love Australian Shiraz, don’t just paint yourself with that one single stroke, try the Chilean version for another 2 tickets and broaden your stroke … Adore California but only know it for White Zinfandel, try a full-bodied red version for another 2. There is so much to taste and try. Let’s see what tickled my tongue this year and see if we can’t reform your way of thinking.

Best of Show:

Every year I try to pick a few wonderful wines that really get me anticipating their arrival at the LCBO (sometimes they’re already there as a hidden gems). This year, hands down, a wine from a California winery took the crown: Folie a Deux 2005 Menage a Trois (#665158 – Vintages July 21, 2007 - $18.95) – a fun little name for a fun wine. A blend of three grapes, and one of the few times you’ll see Zinfandel as one of those grapes: Zin, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Great fruit flavours and smells, mainly plum and cherry and just a hint of perceived sweetness on the finish – which I am sure come from the jammy-fruited Zin flexing its muscles. This is a fun, friendly and wonderful wine I’d be happy to serve anywhere … it’s not pretentious and snooty, it’s just plain good and well priced.

A Couple of Other Show Stoppers:

Delheim 2004 Pinotage (#714253 - $19.95) with a great cherry-vanilla nose and raspberry-leather taste (South Africa). De Bortoli’s new release at the LCBO is Deen Vat 9 Cabernet (#17467 - $14.95) which is a good value Cabernet, smooth, easy drinking with black fruit, vanilla and some cinnamon flavours (Australia).

Closer to Home:

The Wine and Cheese Show is also a great way to discover wineries that may be right in your own backyard. Lailey Vineyards (Niagara-on-the-Lake) 2004 Cabernet ($19.95 – winery only) is drinking wonderfully right now, but could probably sit a few more years, if you are so inclined to wait. Downey’s, a fruit winery on the outskirts of Brampton, has made the leap to maple syrup wines with Maple “Gold” (375ml - $26.95 / 200ml - $14.95); not too sweet, surprising, considering its maple – but otherwise it retains all the characteristics of maple. This is a wine for dessert in very small glass – as Brylcream would claim “a little dabble-do-ya”. Mastronardi, from out Lake Erie North Shore way, gave me a tasting of 3 new, value priced, wines: a good fruit driven 2005 barrel-aged Chardonnay ($16); a stainless steel 2005 Zweigelt ($13) a flavour profile of rhubarb, spice and plum – very smooth; and finally, their 2005 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($18), lots of spice with a mingling of red and black fruit.

Not Just Wine:

Beer is also a big part of the show and two Ontario breweries have some big news. The Robert Simpson Brewing Company of Barrie is launching “SugarBush”, a lighter (4.5%) beer that has great fruit forwardness, some apparent sweetness (from the fruitiness), with a nice, clean, nutty finish – this’ll be a hit at your local pub; someone made mention that it tastes comparable to South American beers, not surprising since the yeast was sourced from Mexico.

Prince Edward County’s Glenora Springs Brewery is sportin’ a new name, a new look and a new location. Barley Days Brewery, soon be relocated more inland (closer to Picton), have shucked their usual big bottled beers for the more standard size bottle … though the beer inside has not changed (just the name of some of them). Al Sager, sales and marketing manager, told me it’s to make it more accessible, “the LCBO likes that size bottle” – that way Barley Days beer can be enjoyed outside the County more readily by those who visit and enjoy the product.

Home Grown Hero:

Speaking of the County, one of these days I’ll get around to writing up Huff Estates in a winery review, because they truly are becoming one of the star winemaking establishments of the County in their ultra-modern building and state of the art facility. At the show I was treated to 5 of their wines from the just released to the up-and-coming. Here are my top 3, in ascending order (3 to 1): The 2006 Riesling Off-Dry ($14.95) with good peach and citrus on both the nose and taste; the 2005 Gamay ($14.95), spicy with some cherry undertones; and the soon-to-be-released, just in time for summer (June) 2006 Cabernet Franc Rose ($10.95) which has a wonderful pink grapefruit nose, good acidity and a medium finish … this is an amazing thirst quencher which I could have sworn was a pink Sauvignon Blanc had you served it to me blind. Bubbling under the top 3 is the Reserve Gamay ($32.95), it’s 16 months in French oak has brought out some wonderful flavours like vanilla, nutmeg and cherry on the nose following through on the palate with vanilla and cedar notes, all finished off with some great robust cherry tones.

Finishing Off:

Looking for something to end your day or meal? I am a big fan of port, but if you are looking for something a little lighter but still on the sweet side to finish off that wonderful Easter meal, special dinner or even just a snip of something to end the week or day off, try a Mavrodaphe of Patras (Greece - #208413 - $10.95). This truly is a steal of a wine … not too sweet (sugar code 13) but easy drinking and it leaves the mouth sweetened just enough to be comfortable without cloying it up. Good port like aromas, but lighter – heck I bought two.

I would say the Wine and Cheese Show was very successful if for nothing else I found some great wine world finds … why go to the Wine and Cheese Show you ask – because you can’t allow yourself to be caught in a one country, one grape wine-rut when there is so much out there to try … some might say there’s a glut of good wine. Say goodbye to the Rut and hello to the Glut.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Report from: Cuvee-en-Route - March 2007

Cuvee is truly a wine lovers paradise … it’s dubbed as the “Oscars” of the Ontario wine industry, but for wine lovers it’s sorta like a wedding: you’ll taste something old, something new, something borrowed (from the cellar) and something blue (I found an intriguing wine packaged in a blue bottle). This year’s “En-Route” passport extravaganza featured 28 wineries each pouring between 2-3 newer or older vintage wines … some had even robbed wines right out of their cellar for the event. I visited 11 of these wineries to see how those previous vintages were tasting, and to wet my palate (literally) for the 2005’s that will soon be arriving on shelves.

Starting the day off at the Niagara College Teaching Winery, where they poured the 2004 Warren Classic Chardonnay ($27.95) – oaky, buttery with deep vanilla notes; a 2005 Select Late Harvest Cabernet Franc ($27.95) – grapes that were caught up in an early flash freeze in December 2005 when temps went below minus-8 but did not remain there, hence any grapes picked at that time could only be used for Late Harvest wine, not ice wine. The wine itself had a rich strawberry nose and taste. On a whim I also tried the 2005 Riesling ($11.95) – a blend of 84% Riesling with the rest being Pinot Gris and Muscat – soft citrus nose, with fruity pear, lemon, peach and minerals on the palate.

Then it was off to Coyote’s Run, where they were featuring their new 2005 line-up: Cabernet Franc, Meritage and Pinot Noir. The 2005 reds are going to be wonderful, so I’ve heard, and from what I’ve tasted so far I agree. The Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir ($30) is a blend of Red Paw grapes and Black Paw grapes. Those familiar with Coyote’s Run know they usually make two Pinot Noirs from two parts of their vineyard where the soils are different, one red and one black; but because of the short crop they could not make the individual Pinots. Good concentration of red and black fruit with the predominance going red – strawberry and rhubarb hit the nose and earthy on both the nez and the palate. The Franc ($22), was aged 12 months in Hungarian, Canadian and Franco-American oak barrels … soft fruit, light tannins and an apparent sweetness in the mid-palate – yum – this one should age well for 5-10 years. The same can be said for the Meritage ($24) red fruit sweetness on the taste with an oak and berry nose … 54% Sauv, 23% Franc, and 13% Merlot make up the blend. Looks like Coyote’s has a good Run of wine this year and all under screwcap.

I always find that I learn something new on these trips, and that is a good thing. Today’s lesson was on Riesling Traminer. I always thought it was a blend of Riesling and Gewurztraminer – but not in this case, Ken Hernder, retail manager at Konzelmann told me. Konzelmann actually grafted Riesling with the parent root of Gewurzt, namely Traminer, and have made a single varietal called Riesling-Traminer. They poured a flight of this grape starting with a 2002 Riesling-Traminer ($24.95) sugar coded at zero but tasted sweet with petrol notes; a 2004 Select Late Harvest Riesling-Traminer ($29.95) – peach, apricot, and over-ripe pear on the nose, with honeyed apricot and apple in the mouth; and a 1996 Riesling Traminer Icewine ($129.95), rust coloured with raisiny nose and taste, with hints of rusty fermented apple (which mirrored the colour). Ken also mentioned their expansion plans “should be ready in June 2007,” was said with crossed fingers, “or the workmen are going to be giving tours and offering tasting,” he finished with a laugh. A new barrel cellar, 2 levels of retail space and private tasting rooms; a spiral staircase that will go all the way to the turret top so visitors can look out over the lake. They are very excited about the changes.

The next two wineries I stopped at were also going through renovations, expansion, or both. Inniskillin and Reif both have scheduled openings/unveilings for Spring 2007. Inniskillin will open a whole new wine store with plans to renovate the old one. While Reif has got new facilities being built right in the parking lot, attached to the current wine store. As for what they were each pouring, Inniskillin was offering up their limited edition single vineyard series wines from 2004; the best of which, the Klose Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($24.75) – 15 months in American and French oak has given this wine a sweet cherry, vanilla and oak palate with black fruit and plum on the nose. The Montague Vineyard Merlot ($25.95) was also quite appealing; another 15-month ager which showed vegetal, plum along with some red AND black fruit on the nose, which followed through in the mouth along with some strawberry undertones. The 2004 Brae Burn Shiraz ($24.95) shows some promise, with black pepper, spice, dark berries and a crème brulee finish, but the nose was tight and closed, showing only hints of black pepper … giving it some time could yield wonderful results.

Reif was showing off their wonderful Merlots: a 2001 and 2002 First Growth ($50 each) from 12 and 13 year old vines respectively. But the highlight was something a little cheaper and a little more recent. Chocolate, white pepper, red fruit and a hint of mint were what my nose picked up, while through the mouth red fruit, sweet cherry and some earthy tones … and what is this delicacy you might ask? Would you believe the 2004 Merlot ($23.95)? I’m told upon opening it’s a little tight, but the bottle I sampled had been opened for 5 hours and really shone.
Strewn Winery focused its attention on their soon to be released 2005’s: Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and a Meritage blend called “Strewn Three” (65% Franc; 21% Sauv; 14% Merlot) – prices have yet to be announced, but they are on sale using their futures program, meaning you can buy now before release at a minimum 10% savings. So far they have sold over 20% of the release. These 2005 wines are going to be in limited supply, which is why they are being snapped up so quickly … also because these wines are wonderful and ageable. The best of which to me was the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (currently futures priced at $15), dark chocolate, oak, blackberry, black currant and smoke on the nose; cherry, blackberry and spices on the palate.

I now find myself at Harvest Estates, located in a fruit market on the outskirts of St. Catharines. To me Harvest seems like a dumping ground for older wines, cast outs and experimental wines from Hernder (their parent company). 2000 and 2001 Rieslings; a 1999 off-Chardonnay (not good for drinking but does wonders in a recipe, the sign proclaimed) or a 1999 unoaked Cab Franc. They also have a variety of fruit wines and vinegars in all flavours: grapefruit, peach-vanilla, strawberry – you name it. There was nothing in the store (that I could see) dated 2003 or higher. But a blue bottled 2001 Late Harvest Chardonnay ($14.95) sparked my interest and a full review will appear in the newsletter at a future date. Check out Harvest as a curiosity or if you are feeling adventurous.
It was then off to Creekside where they featured some past Cuvee winners … a Signature Shiraz ($40.15 – 2002) and a Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.20 – 2001) … but the real find was the “Best LCBO General List Red” winner from last year, the 2002 Cabernet Merlot ($16.15). I am told they unearthed and liberated a few cases from the cellar especially for this event. The price has gone up a few bucks from when I bought it last year for $12.95, but still a bargain for a wine of this caliber.
Next, a stop at Cave Spring, with a flight of Reserve Rieslings from the 2003, 2004 and 2005 Vintages; Cave Springs is truly a Riesling lovers paradise and their Reserves are very tasty and are made from some of the oldest Riesling vines in Ontario (upwards of 30 years). But it’s the word “reserve” that truly bothers me. I just had to ask the difference between the “regular” and “reserve” line, considering that Riesling never spends any time in oak. The “Niagara Peninsula” (regular) wines are sourced from all over the region, while the “Reserve” are produced from their own estate grown older vines. Unfortunately this is just another bastardization of the word “reserve” that once again is meant to mislead the customer. I understand and could taste the “special-ness” of these wines, but could they not use a word other than “Reserve”? I think so … call them “Old Vines Riesling” and charge me a little more. “Reserve” does not mean special, per se, it means held back - once again I ask, how can one rely on anything read on a wine label – especially when it comes to the overused and misused word “Reserve”?
Lakeview Cellars was my second to last stop of the day … they poured their 2001 Starboard ($19.95) because the ’05 wasn’t quite ready yet. Starboard is their Port-like wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Lush in the mouth with chocolate, cherries and dark fruit. Of course, the oxidation is there and so is the full on mouth coating effect of a thick sweet red. I would suggest getting your name on the list for a few bottles of the ’05 before it’s all gone.
Final winery for this Cuvee 2007 tour was Fielding; who have an excellent track record but also now have a new winemaker - will that track record continue? Ray Cornell (formerly of Hernder) seems to have a new lease-on-life attitude and is thrilled to be onboard. The 2005 wines, while not completely his vintage (as was pointed out to me), definitely have his grape stained fingerprints on them. A Reserve Cabernet Franc ($28 – April 14th release) has a sweet cherry nose with good oak integration; on the palate, more sweet cherry fruit carries itself into the mid-palate right through to the finish line. It is surprisingly smoother than the recently released 2005 Cabernet Franc ($18) with its spicy oak nose and closed dark fruit flavours. Fielding recommends decanting or cellaring, and I would whole-heartedly agree. Some of the other new wines at Fielding, the ’06 Chardonnay Musque ($15) and the 2006 Gewurtraminer, will be reviewed in full in an upcoming newsletter.

Another successful trip through the Niagara region … Cuvee continues to be an under publicized, yet fantastic wine voyage – flights of older wines mixed in with the younger ones makes for an exciting and educational outing. It is also a time to unearth those real finds that are hidden away in winemaker’s cellars … it is the allure of Cuvee that brings out the best for all to taste and see. If you’re an Ontario wine fan, heck, a wine fan in general, this is your event. All the winners for Cuvee 2007 can be found at under “event news”.