Sip and Savour Ontario, a wine and food event showcasing Ontario Wine Award winners, was held last week on June 17, 2010. The Ontario Wine Awards was founded by celebrated Canadian wine writer Tony Aspler in 1995, and has grown to include over 500 entries from about 60 wineries. This year’s Sip and Savour took place at the Pantages Hotel in downtown Toronto. While the venue was very nice, it got claustrophobically crowded during the trade tasting. The crush of people made it very difficult to write decent tasting notes but, on the positive side, the number of people present is definitely an indication of the interest and high regard shown for Ontario’s great wines. I hope they rent a larger space for next year’s event.
Rieslings to Believe: Ontario’s Cinderella Grape
The afternoon for me began with a seminar presented by Natalie Reynolds, winemaker at Thirty Bench, called “Rieslings to Believe: Ontario’s Cinderella Grape”. (Other seminars included Ontario Pinot Noir and Ontario Chardonnay.) During the presentation, Ms. Reynolds commented on a “Riesling Renaissance”, stating that Riesling, which was once one of the world’s most revered grapes, is making a huge comeback after having suffered a serious slump in popularity. (If you’re interested, there is also a book titled “Riesling Renaissance”, written by Freddy Price and published by Mitchell Beazley in 2004.)
Riesling was the first vitis vinifera vine to be successful in Ontario as it takes well to cool climates, and it also happens to be the finest grape for our important Icewine industry. Of course, we don’t just make superb sweet Rieslings, Ontario also makes excellent dry and off-dry versions. Ms. Reynolds spoke a bit about the two Riesling clones that are predominantly grown in the Niagara Peninsula – clone 21B and clone 49. The Niagara Riesling Pioneers include Vineland Estates, Cave Spring, and Thirty Bench. Back when they were planting Riesling vines, over 30 years ago, the clone 21B was the only clone available to them. Clone 21B is the most planted Riesling clone on Beamsville Bench, and clone 49 has become the most planted in the vineyards of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Clone 21B on the bench gives wines full of lime and mineral aromas and flavours, while clone 49 in NOTL tends to be more floral with tropical fruit notes.
Good Rieslings reflect the terroir in which they are grown, more so than any other grape. It is a late budding and early ripening grape which suits cooler climates, as does its hard wood, which makes it resistant to Ontario’s cold winters. In warmer climates it ripens too early and loses much of its complexity and character, making it taste dull. The addition of SO₂ as a preservative is not needed as much with dry Rieslings due to their very low pH. Rieslings with some or a lot of residual sugar may require more.
Riesling does not take well to aging in oak, as most of its greatly admired freshness, fragrance, and acidity will be severely diminished. Malolactic fermentation is also avoided.
During this seminar we tasted 4 different award winning Rieslings from 4 different wineries – all were very good. Here are the tasting notes:
Thirty Bench 2008 Small Lot Riesling Steel Post Vineyard (2010 Gold Medal): Intriguing petrol aromas along with mineral, white grapefruit and citrus. The wine is dry with a racy, mouthwatering acidity, lime zest and lots of mineral. Quite a long, lingering finish. Very good. ($30)
Rosewood Estates 2008 Riesling Reserve (2010 Bronze Medal): A pale straw colour with a greenish hue. Intense aromas of mineral, zesty citrus, beeswax, and honey notes. The wine is dry and beautifully balanced with flavours of green apple, mineral, and a slightly waxy character and crisp acidity. ($25)
Flat Rock Cellars 2008 Riesling Twenty Mile Bench (2010 Gold Medal): Displaying intense aromas and flavours of key lime, mineral, and a touch of petrol. Crisp acidity and a lingering finish make this balanced wine a very tasty Riesling at a great price! ($16.95 – can be found in Vintages)
Tawse 2009 Sketches of Niagara Riesling (2010 Silver Medal): This wine has about 10% of clone 49 in the blend which perhaps explains the presence of a more tropical fruit character. It’s also the only wine of the 4 from the 2009 vintage. Pronounced and complex aromas of mineral, white peach, nectarine, mango, and fresh blossoms. Mineral flavours on the palate are softened by nectarine and white peach notes. Vivacious, balanced and beautiful with a lingering, mouthwatering finish. ($18).
Other Great Wines Tasted at Sip and Savour 2010
Not all the wines listed below were award winners, but they were some of my favourites of the tasting.
Huff Estates Winery South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2007 (2010 Gold Medal and White Wine of the Year): My favourite white wine of the tasting. Complex and creamy with yellow apple, orange peel, mineral, and vanilla. A bit of vanilla yogurt, nectarine, and spice on the palate with long creamy finish and subtle, well-integrated oak. Gorgeous!
Konzelmann Estate Winery Sparkling Riesling Methode Cuvée Close 2008 (2010 Bronze Medal): A fun and delicious wine. Great for serving on a hot summer day.
Nyarai Cellars Trois 2009: A blend of 85% Viognier with a little Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. Very fragrant and floral with fresh peach and apricot aromas and flavours. A great summer sipper! ($19)
Rosewood Estates Gewurztraminer 2008 (2009/2010 Silver Medal): The grapes for this wine are sourced from the Wismer Vineyard. A typical Gewurz fragrance of lychee, tropical fruit and fresh flowers.
Chateau des Charmes Equuleus Paul Bosc Vineyard 2007: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc. Big, dark, and still quite tannic. Needs a couple more years to become more approachable. Great potential to turn into a stunning wine. ($40)
Creekside Estate Broken Press Shiraz 2007 (2010 Gold Medal): Robust aromas and flavours of cherry, smoke, and pepper. A very good Shiraz with great typicity. ($39.95)
Nyarai Cellars Cabernet Merlot 2007 Reserve: Bold dark fruit, red cherry, and coco aromas and flavours are dominant. Full and round on the palate with smooth tannins and a long length. Not yet released.
Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 19 2007 (2010 Bronze Medal): Big, bold and beautiful with abundant dark berries and earth, while still managing a sophisticated elegance. ($34.95)
Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Cabernet Merlot 2007: Also from the fantastic 2007 vintage comes this stunning wine. Loads of red and dark fruits, roasted coffee and toasty notes. Complex, concentrated, and balanced. ($60)
Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery Baco Noir 2008 (2010 Best Label): A really nice Baco. Lots of dark fruit and earth. ($16)
Vineland Estates Winery Cabernet Franc Reserve 2007 (2010 Gold and Red Wine of the Year): A beautiful perfume of dark fruit, dark cherry, plum, anise and slight pencil shavings. Complex notes of spice, dark fruit, and earth on the palate with smooth tannins and a long length. Amazing! ($40)