“This is the golden-age of Ontario wine.” These words were spoken by both Thomas Bachelder and Tony Aspler yesterday at the Sip and Savour Ontario Culinary Symposium held in Toronto’s beautiful Distillery District. The symposium was a luncheon showcasing some of the best VQA wines Ontario has to offer paired with dishes created by three of Toronto’s best chefs.
The Master of Ceremonies for this event was the energetic and very entertaining Kevin Brauch, whom you may know as “The Thirsty Traveler” on the Food Network. Keynote speakers were Thomas Bachelder, winemaker for Le Clos Jordanne; Cynthia Beretta, owner of Beretta Organic Farms Inc.; Gurth Pretty, founder of CheeseofCanada.ca; and Ann Sperling, winemaker and director of viticulture at Southbrook Vineyards, Canada’s only certified biodynamic vineyards. Tony Aspler was also seated at the head table and said a few words as well.
One of the main themes of the symposium was “terroir“. Although there is no direct English translation for this French term, “terroir” can be thought of, very simply, as the whole natural environment of a vineyard site. It refers to the soil, topography, and climate. The various types and combinations of each of these factors is unique to each site and is believed to contribute to the flavours, aromas, and style of the wine. The terroir of a particular place cannot be replicated elsewhere. The so-called “Old World” wine producing nations in Europe have been talking about terroir for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Ontario has really only been making quality wine for the last three decades and it takes time to discover what different pieces of land can contribute to a wine. The recent addition of the sub-appellations in the Niagara Region is an indication that differences in terroir are being recognized. Ontario winemakers and viticulturalists are also beginning to identify the unique characteristics of even smaller parcels of land (ie: single vineyard sites), and we’re seeing more and more single vineyard names printed on wine labels. The terroir of many of the wines featured at lunch, and at the tasting of Ontario wines after lunch, were highlighted by representatives of their respective wineries.
Lunch started out with a bang, or should I say more like a “POP!”, as Kevin Brauch invited Ann Sperling to saber a bottle of Ontario sparkling wine. She did it with great flair and made it look easy. One got the impression that maybe she had done that before. (I think I’d like to try it sometime.) As the top came flying off the bottle, applause and cheers erupted from the guests who were made up of people in the wine and restaurant industry, as well as a few wine and food writers.
The first course of the meal was a lightly cured and smoked Creemore Springs Arctic Char Salad served with shaved asparagus, morel mushrooms and pine nuts with a brown butter and pickled wild leek vinaigrette. It was superb. The Arctic Char was done beautifully with the smokiness delicate enough so it didn’t overpower the dish and the vegetables were cooked perfectly. This dish was created by Chef Cory Vitiello of The Harbord Room and was paired with two Chardonnays from Le Clos Jordanne.
The first wine was the Le Clos Jordanne 2006 Village Reserve Chardonnay which is produced from 3 vineyards located in Jordan. It shows aromas of citrus and vanilla and had the minerality common with Ontario white wines. It reminds me of the earth just after a light rain. It has good acidity with some lime zest and smooth vanilla on the medium plus length. There is also a hint of flintiness which reminds me of the wines from the Chablis region.
The second wine from Le Clos Jordanne was the 2006 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay. Here we have a wine that shows the expression of its unique terroir. There is lots of minerality which comes from the limestone soils that the grapes are grown in. There are also aromas of pear and soft vanilla. This wine is a bit fuller bodied with a slightly longer finish than the Village Reserve wine. It should improve in bottle for at least another couple of years. (Incidentally, it was the 2005 vintage of this wine that won that big competition in Montreal where it was pitted against famous Chardonnays from California and the illustrious Burgundy region of France.) I actually liked this wine a bit better with the dish because the fuller body and more complex flavours were a better complement to the flavours of the food.
The second course was created by Chef Nick Liu of the Niagara Street Cafe. It was a rabbit roulade with house cured bacon, fresh bean cassoulet and natural jus and was paired with Pelee Island Winery 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir. The wine showcases lots of cherry aromas with beetroot and cranberry. There is also some earthy minerality which comes from the Toledo clay soils in which the grapes are grown. I found it to be very tart with quite high acidity. It would be difficult to drink on its own so the food was a welcome addition to my palate. It’s definitely a food wine. The red fruit follows through onto the palate, finishing off with a good streak of minerality. I found that it was a better match to the bean cassoulet than to the rabbit itself.
The third course was created by Executive Chef David Chrystian of Victor Restaurant and Bar. It was an Ontario Texel lamb curry done in the Tamil style and was paired with Stonechurch Vineyards 2007 Reserve Syrah. The lamb was beautifully done; almost melting in your mouth, and the curry was so delicate you almost didn’t notice it. The Syrah had dominant aromas of white and black pepper with some black fruit and anise. Plum and blackberry flavours were evident in the mouth along with some of the black pepper. This wine comes from the Niagara Lakeshore appellation and the grapes are grown on shale and clay soils that are very well-drained. Again, this wine was a good food wine.
The last course was a cheese course and included Evanturel, which is a soft bloomy rind, brie-style cheese with a layer of vegetable ash running through it; Niagara Gold, which is an aromatic cheese with complex sweet, grassy and fruity flavours; and Thunder Oak Farmstead Gouda, a rich, smooth textured firm cheese aged for six months.
Two wines were served with the cheese course. The first was Creekside Estate 2007 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. This wine was fermented in 25% new French oak with the rest fermented in stainless steel or old French oak. There was no malolactic fermentation with this wine as the winemaker wanted to retain the crisp acidity. There are smoky aromas which come from the oak with some tropical fruit with a touch of the green grassiness typical of a Sauvignon Blanc. The same fruit flavours are evident on the palate and it has a long length. I really liked this wine and it paired beautifully with the Evanturel cheese.
The second wine was Vineland Estates 2007 Chardonnay Non-oaked. There seems to be a trend towards un-oaked Chardonnay recently as people are deciding they no longer like oakiness in their wines. It appears to have changed from ABC (anything but Chardonnay) to ABOC (anything but oaked Chardonnay). I know that the winemakers contend they want to bring out the natural flavours of the Chardonnay grape, but to be honest with you, I think Chardonnay is typically a very neutral grape. This wine is no exception. The fruit aromas are very delicate indeed, but it is very refreshing on the palate. It did go well with all the cheeses serving to refresh and cleanse the mouth after each bite of cheese.
After the cheese course we were served Southbrook Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Rosé which is comprised of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Cabernet Franc. This wine also happens to be the first certified biodynamic wine produced in Canada. The grapes were grown specifically to make a rosé wine and was fermented using indigenous yeasts. Using indigenous yeast is thought to help bring out the unique characteristics of the wine’s specific terroir. This wine is very fruit forward with lots of red berry aromas. It was very refreshing in the mouth with red berries and a hint of rhubarb. A very pleasant wine.
After lunch the tables were cleared away and guests could try wines from 32 Ontario wineries. Some of these wines were truly excellent, but unfortunatley I don’t have time to write about them at this time.