Niagara’s Best Comes to Town

We are less than 2 weeks away from one of the premier Ontario wine events to hit the Ottawa market.  This February 6, 2012 at the National Gallery of Canada (380 Sussex Drive) between 6:30 and 9:00pm 46+ Ontario wineries will be pouring their wares from diverse vintages ranging from 2006 through to the current 2011 wines. In some cases you will be the first members of the public to taste these brand new wines.

It would be impossible for me to tell you about each and every wine, especially because I want you to go out and make up your own mind about the quality of Ontario’s vineyards and wineries, but I can point you towards some ‘must taste’ and eagerly anticipated releases.

I’ll start with one of the members of Ontario’s growing population of Virtual Wineries: 20-27 Cellars owned by winemaker Kevin Panagapka and housed at Featherstone Winery. Both producers are known for being the first out of the gate with their aromatic whites, that’s why to get a handle on what 2011 was like you should get a taste of 20-27’s vineyard specific 2011 Fox Croft Vineyard Riesling and Featherstone’s 2011 Black Sheep Riesling and Rosé – and don’t forget to ask where the name of the Black Sheep wine comes from.

Speaking of Riesling, one of Ontario’s best Riesling houses will be in attendance and while Cave Spring’s Dolomite Riesling is always fantastic, you should also try one of the best Pinot Noirs to come out of the 2007 vintage in their Estate Pinot Noir. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed, especially if you are a Pinot Noir fan.

Fans of Creekside will recognize the Laura’s Red label, named after owner Laura McCain.  In the past the wine has been a blend of the big three Bordeaux reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. However, Bordeaux allows 5 grapes in their blends and this year marks the first time that all five grapes appear under the Laura’s label, so it’s worth giving it a try – plus 2007 was an amazing year for Ontario reds. FYI: the other two grapes allowed are Malbec and Petit Verdot.

For those looking for a spicy white, you’ll want to stop by Calamus’ booth and get a taste of the 2010 Gewurztraminer. Ask for the G-wine if Gewurztraminer is too much of a tongue twister.  When I tasted this before the holidays it was pretty tight, but after leaving it in a glass for about half an hour the wine blossomed into something incredible.  By now it should have settled down and  it’ll be worth sipping on – especially if you’re a fan of the spicy Asian fare.

Back on the topic of Riesling – you will want to stop by both the Chateau des Charmes and Mike Weir booths. At last year’s Ontario Wine Awards these two houses took home gold for their 2008 Rieslings (one semi-dry one dry). They will be pouring those award winning wines and once spring is in the air they’ll fly off of shelves, so I recommend getting a taste now so that you know what all the hype is about.

On the subject of awards, go feast your palate at the Tawse Winery booth – two time winner of Wine Access’ Canadian Winery of the Year honours – and you will be catching them at their peak right now because the two years in question are 2010 and 2011.

New wineries seem to be a dime a dozen these days and there will be plenty on display at the National Gallery.  Between the Lines has a 2009 Reserve Cabernet Franc worth trying (and buying) and relative newcomer Ravine has a ’07 Meritage that is also worth the price. Both cost the same but each has its own radically different flavour profile.

My house wine this summer was from a winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Cattail Creek’s 2009 Riesling, a great sip for little money.  Staying in NOTL the newcomer Pondview is making in-roads with their Riesling, this time the 2010. Both houses show that you can grow and make good Riesling even in the heart of what should be a hot plot of land in the middle of NOTL.

I have two more Niagara-on-the-Lake wines to recommend:  Chardonnay fans should definitely stop by the Lailey booth for a taste of the 2009 Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula – which seems to be getting better and better with each passing day.  Lailey also have a decently priced ($15.00) 2009 Cabernet Merlot that’ll have you saying “wow” after your first sip! And you’re not doing your wine tasting duty if you don’t get a taste (side-by-side) of the Coyote’s Run Red and Black Paw Pinot Noirs – same grape, same property, same treatment in the winery, same time in barrel, everything’s the same – except for the taste – and the soils they grow it on.

I notice the Alan Jackson (formerly of Jackson-Triggs) made Union Wines have two new additions to their list of wines, essentially doubling their portfolio.  Try and let me know what you think of the 2010 Rosé and the 2010 Noir – I can’t tell you anything about them because I haven’t even tried them – you’ll have to be my eyes and ears on this one.

Finally, we’ve talked a lot about Niagara based wines and wineries, but you’ll also see faces from the Lake Erie North Shore (Pelee Island) and a contingent of wineries from Prince Edward County, namely Norman Hardie, Closson Chase, The Grange, Casa Dea and Huff. Make sure to taste these wines too, especially the 2008 Cuvee Peter F Huff from Huff Estates.

Taste Ontario is February 6, 2012 at the National Gallery of Canada (380 Sussex Drive) and runs from 6:30-9:00pm, tickets are $55 and are available by calling: 416-365-5767 or 1-800-266-4764.