A Day in the Life of a Sommelier

Sometimes it seems that the life of a sommelier is a tough one: tasting wines all day, coming up with creative food and wine pairings, talking to people about wine.  (Read my blog post called, “What the Heck is a Sommelier, Anyway?” in the “Sommeliers” category for more information on what a sommelier is.  Or see sidebar “What is a sommelier.)  Then there’s the really rough part of travelling to wine regions and visiting wineries.  This last onerous (NOT!) task was on my agenda in the middle of May.  Jennifer, head sommelier of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Lorie, assistant sommelier, and I all piled into Jennifer’s car and headed to the Niagara Peninsula.  We had a busy day ahead of us with appointments to taste at four wineries followed by dinner at Treadwell’s in Port Dalhousie.  It was a glorious spring day; one of the very few we’ve had this spring.  The warm sunshine was streaming through the car windows and I instantly wished I had worn my sandals. 

Our first stop was Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery with its stunning Victorian farmhouse perched at the end of a long driveway that gently slices its way through the vineyard.  To the right of the farmhouse, which houses an elegant restaurant, is a beautifully restored barn in which the winery and tasting room are located.  We started by tasting through their range of white wines, all of which were of high quality.  The racy acidity and steely minerality typical fo Ontario whites were evident.

The 2008 Wismer Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is a real crowd-pleaser.  It has all you would expect from a really good Sauvignon Blanc.  Gooseberry and grapefruit aromas mingle with fresh cut grass and a touch of asparagus.  It’s very refreshing and a great value.  It’s a great Ontario alternative to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Another white that really caught my attention was the 2007 Dubois Vineyard Inox Chardonnay.  This is a beautifully flinty wine reminiscent of a fine Chablis.  It’s unoaked and has hints of pear with minerality that dances in your mouth for the long finish.

The 2006 McNally Vineyard Syrah Rose really took me by surprise.  This is not that sickly sweet cream soda stuff.  This is serious rose.  It’s loaded with white and black pepper, spice and red fruit.  This is proof that not all roses are girly wines!

We also tasted through several notable red wines.  By this time, winemaker, Jean-Pierre Colas, had joined us and was able to give us his insight into the wines.  I really liked the 2006 Reserve Syrah with its earthy, slightly gamey character.  It’s a big, full-bodied wine with black cherry and firm tannins leading to a long finish.  Jean-Pierre suggests decanting this wine for at least 10 minutes before serving.

The 2006 Reserve Merlot was also an impressive wine with dark plum, some licorice and a gamey, animal character.

Then Jean-Pierre brought us a real treat.  He arrived with a barrel sample of the 2006 Reserve Merlot that he had held back in barrel to age it a bit longer.  This wine has lots of power but it exudes finesse at the same time.  The same dark fruit is there and so is the slight animal character but somehow it seems more complex and integrated.  It has firm yet elegant tannins.  A truly amazing wine.

The three of us with winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas

The three of us with winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas

After lunch we went to Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery located in a beautiful setting surrounded by trees and vineyards.  They have a wonderful patio with big comfy chairs that looked so inviting.  What a perfect spot to sit and sip.

There are two Hidden Bench wines in particular that I would like to mention.  The 2006 Estate Chardonnay is delicious.  The Ontario minerality is there but so was vanilla, white peach and a kiss of apricot.  On the palate it is creamy and smooth with a little toasty caramel on the finish.  The 2007 Estate Pinot Noir is also excellent.  It has luscious red berries and a slightly meaty character with delicate cherry on the finish.

Hidden Bench Winery

Hidden Bench Winery

Our next stop was Tawse Winery where I fell in love – not with a handsome knight in shining stainless steel fermenting tanks, but with a wine.  Actually it was four wines to be exact.  They are all from the fabulous 2007 vintage and they were all Cabernet Francs.  I’m generally not a big fan of Cabernet Franc as I don’t like the herbal, green pepper, ash thing they sometimes have when not fully ripe.  These single vineyard wines were different.  They were all concentrated and ripe and I couldn’t help but admire them instantly.  When tasting through the lot, one really gets to see how terroir really does impact on flavour.  Although they all had similar fruit characteristics, the wines also showed some subtle differences.

The Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc is aromatic with floral notes and red fruit.  It has good structure and was very pleasing on the palate.  The Wismer Vineyard version has a beautiful perfume with rich, slightly darker fruit of blueberries and black cherries with some stony minerality.  This is probably my favourite of the lot.  The Cabernet Franc from the Van Bers Vineyard is a bit closed right now but I could pick out mulberries and licorice.  It is a more fruit-forward wine than the others.  The wine from David’s Block is also excellent with chocolate and violets on the nose with a velvetty texture on the palate.  It has vibrant acidity with lots of ripe fruit.  All four are totally delicious and I would be happy to run away forever with any of them.

Lorie and I with Rene of Tawse Winery.

Lorie and I with Rene of Tawse Winery.

Our last stop was a winery I had never been to before called The Foreign Affair Winery.  It is owned by a lovely couple, Len Crispino and his wife, Marisa.  Their winemaker is the obviously very talented Andrzej Lipinski.  They were so warm and inviting and immediately plates of crackers and cheese appeared.  For many years the Crispinos lived in Italy as expats and while there they fell in love with Amarone wines.  When they finally returned to Canada, they settled in the Niagara region and in 2000 bought 40 acres of land on which they planted vines.  Their first harvest was 2004.  Their aim is to make Amarone-styled wines using the same appassimento, or dried grape method they use in Italy.  After the grapes are harvested they are carefully dried in a climate controlled barn.  As the water in the grapes evaporates, the flavours become more concentrated.  When the grapes are just right, they are fermented into beautifully rich and complex wines.  I think they had met their aim.  These wines would put many Amarones to shame.

One of my favourite wines from The Foreign Affair is the 2007 Merlot.  It has pretty aromaa of bright fruit.  It is an elegant and food friendly wine.  The 2007 Temptress lives up to its name.  Being a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot, it’s a real temptress.  It has a slightly floral perfume with bright acidity and silky tannins.  It is elegant and harmonious.  The 2006 Cabernet Franc is a real show-stopper at a whopping 17.1% alcohol.  The grapes were dried for 103 days giving a wine of raisins, cherry pie, dried figs, and chocolate.  We were thinking that it could replace a glass of Port with a cheese plate.  What a huge wine!

One interesting thing I noticed with these appassimento wines was their bright acidity.  It seems that the grape drying process does not diminish the acidity that makes wines go so well with food.

The three of us with Len and Marissa Crispino of Foreign Affair Winery.

The three of us with Len and Marissa Crispino of The Foreign Affair Winery.

After a hard day of tasting some of Ontario’s best wines we were ready for a feast.  And a delicious feast it was at Treadwell’s.  As I said before, being a sommelier can be a tough job.

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