Friday night at Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, throngs of people involved in the Ontario wine industry, media folk, and consumers met to celebrate the winners of the Cuvee 2011 Awards. The Cuvee wine awards are special because they are the only awards in Canada that are chosen by the winemakers themselves. Wineries wishing to participate enter 4 of their best wines into the competition, and this year a whopping 62 wineries entered over 270 wines. The wineries will be selling their award-winning wines throughout this weekend. For a full list of the award winners go to Wines in Niagara. Wine lovers can purchase Cuvee en Route passports for $30 which includes tastings at participating wineries from March 4-6. Go to www.cuvee.ca for more details. Money raised during Cuvee weekend goes to the Niagara Community Foundation.
This was the first time I have ever attended the Gala and was very excited about it. All gussied up in my new dress with my handsome husband at my side, I entered the Grand Hall. The room was lit with a purpley glow. In the centre of the room, chefs in crisp white uniforms were working feverishly, preparing sumptuous dishes for the mass of people about to descend on them. We were a bit early so we enjoyed this time in the relatively empty room, planning our wine and food-tasting strategy for the evening. Soon, the room began to fill up, food was served and wine was flowing. Most of the wine I tried was fantastic (a list of my favourites is below). The food was also wonderful. My only criticism of the food was that the portions were tiny and served one at a time on little side plates. Because it was awkward to take more than one plate at a time, we took one plate, ate the little portion, and then had to get in line all over again to try something else. We actually wound up eating very little. I did, however, try many wines resulting in a bit of a headache the next day.
When looking over the list of award winners, I was very shocked to see that not one Pinot Noir won an award – not one! This is Ontario, where we take pride in our Pinot Noirs. What’s going on? There were awards for almost every other grape variety, including Pinot Gris, Gewurrztraminer, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, even Viognier…but no Pinot Noir. I don’t understand.
On a more positive note, two fabulous virtual wineries won big prizes at Cuvee this year. Nyarai Cellars brought home the Best Red Assemblage award for its 2007 Veritas – a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Winemaker Steve Byfield makes his wines out of the Calamus winery where he is also the Assistant Winemaker. (For more information, read my post from about a year and a half ago called “Nyarai Cellars – A Virtual Winery”) Another virtual winery, Twenty Twenty-Seven Cellars, won Best Riesling for its 2009 Fox Croft Vineyard Riesling. This winery is made in the Featherstone Estate Winery facilities and is crafted by winemaker Kevin Panagapka. Virtual wineries are popping up more and more. Essentially, they allow a winemaker to practice his or her craft without having to come up with the astronomical investment required to actually build a winery. Instead, they rent space in already established wineries and use their facilities. Charles Baker Riesling is another highly acclaimed virtual wine in Ontario, which is made at Stratus.
The Cuvee Wine Awards also introduced me to two relatively new wineries that I was previously unaware of – Five Rows Craft Wine of Lowrey Vineyards (Pinot Gris Award Winner and 2nd Place Sauvignon Blanc Award) and Pondview Estates Winery (2nd Place Chardonnay Award). Both are family-run operations who have been growing grapes in the Niagara Region for quite some time. The Lowrey family of Five Rows is now in the 5th generation of farming, while the Puglisi family has been growing grapes since the 1970s. I will definitely make an attempt to visit these two wineries in the near future.
Hearty congratulations also needs to be sent out to Creekside Estate Winery for 3 big wins this year. Creekside proudly took home Best Limited Edition White Wine and Best Viognier for their 2009 Queenston Road Vineyard Reserve Viognier, and they also won Best Sauvignon Blanc for their 2009 Creekside Estate Vineyard Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have never been to Creekside so it has also been added to the list of wineries I must visit.
A Few of My Favourites:
Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Brut Rose (2nd Place Sparkling Wine Award): always a favourite!
Twenty Twenty-Seven Cellars Fox Croft Vineyard Riesling 2009 (Riesling Award Winner): My first time trying 2027 wines and I was very impressed! Their Pinot Noir was also excellent.
Five Rows Craft Wine of Lowrey Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris (Pinot Gris Award Winner): A relatively new winery (open 2 years). Their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc received 2nd Place in Sauvignon Blanc category.
Niagara College Teaching Winery Dean’s List Chardonnay 2009 (Chardonnay Award Winner) and Niagara College Teaching Winery 2007 Meritage.
Pondview Estate Winery 2009 Barrel Fermented/Barrel Aged Chardonnay (2nd Place Chardonnay Award)
Nyarai Cellars 2007 Veritas (Red Assemblage Award Winner) and 2009 Sauvignon Blanc which is now sold out. The Veritas was just released in the LCBO Vintages stores yesterday. Buy it fast as it’s sure to go quick – especially after Friday night’s award.
Hillebrand Winery 2007 Showcase Merlot ‘Carlton Vineyard‘ (Merlot Award Winner): By far my favourite Merlot of the night!
Vineland Estates 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve (no award last night but did win a Gold Medal at last year’s Ontario Wine Awards.)