Highs & Lows of 2014

Highs & Lows

UPDATE: I can’t believe I missed the Judgement of PEC Pinot Noir tasting put on by OWSPEC. See more about it down below.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, so decided I should finally capture my thoughts. My 2014 was full of highlights for me, but there were a few things that either disappointed or saddened me. I’ve tried to capture them in chronological order. Like them or hate them? Leave a comment and tell me why!

High: The one big “high” of running the Great Canadian Wine Challenge with Calvin Hanselmann was that Calvin and his wife Dylan became good friends with Debbie and I, and we have enjoyed some great wines and adventures together over the year.

Calvin, Dylan, & Debbie

Calvin, Dylan, & Debbie

Low: Calvin and I didn’t realize how much “grunt work” there was going to be with running the challenge. We wanted to run more contests/fun things, but we just ran out of steam. My blogging took a hit too.

High: Open That Bottle Night (February): We decided to try this event where you open something special – that bottle you have been saving for just the right occasion that never comes (based on the WSJ post in the link). It was a great way to kill the winter blues and enjoy great food, great wines, and great friends, and will be repeated at our house annually!

High: Being nominated for, and winning the “Promoter at Large” award from Brock CCOVI Promote the Promoters Awards. Being recognized in front of peers (by those same peers) was really moving, and I am humbled to be included in the list of winners over the years. It really is an honour.

Low: The day I accepted the VQA Promoter award, I had to miss the funeral of a long-time friend (Kerry Mason) who had just passed away from cancer. Kerry’s wife Samantha assured me that Kerry would want me to attend and accept the award, but I was an emotional wreck that weekend and for a good time after. I was never able to blog about the weekend and all the great wines enjoyed at Cuvée, the expert’s tasting, and the #LostBarrelVertical dinner. It still bothers me today.

High: Speaking of that #LostBarrelVertical dinner, this was an amazing evening with 11
other wine geeks, a fabulous set of wines, and an amazing dinner from Treadwell’s in NOTL. Kudos to Gary Killops for coming up with the amazing idea to share these fantastic bottles! (Paul might agree that the dinner was a “high” but his 6-7 hour drive home in a snowstorm was a “low”!). We also had a pre-dinner and post-dinner tasting that included so many great Canadian wines. Awesome night indeed!

Lost Barrel Vertical Tasting at Treadwells

Lost Barrel Vertical Tasting at Treadwells

High: Getting my first paid writing gigs doing the back stories for Savvy Hip Hops and Savvy Selections.  Strange that I started with beer first and then moved to wine, but it was nice to finally have some income from my hobby!

High: Terroir event in PEC. Not only was it the first major event (a farmer’s market) to allow wine sales in Ontario, it was the last time I saw Richard Karlo. Before and after, we visited many great wineries, including The Old Third, Hubb’s Creek, and Long Dog. The Gamay in barrel at Long Dog was definitely a highlight for 2014.

The Somms

The Somms at #IronSommelier

High: MP (& Minister) Michelle Rempel invited Calvin and I to this event in Ottawa called #IronSommelier. Michelle and two other well known Ottawa somms (Andrew Rasta of Lifford Agency and Steve Robinson of Atelier) paired Canadian wines with dishes from #IronChef winner Rene Rodriguez (of Ottawa’s Navarra restaurant) in a “competition” to see who had the best pairings. It was an evening of great Canadian wines and I discovered an amazing Syrah from Painted Rock winery in BC that night among the stellar wines provided.

High: Being asked to judge the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario wine awards. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about my skills and the skills of those who do this professionally. Loved meeting some of the former (and current) students of the program at Niagara College, including David Stasiuk of Rockway Vineyards.

High: Winewire.ca’s first pop-up wine shop in Ottawa. We got a taste of what it might be like to have a private wine shop operate in our city, and we really liked it!

High: Canadian Wine Day and Free Shipping Day. When Janet Dorozynski first suggested #CanadianWineDay, I thought it was an amazing idea and Calvin and I were trying to think of ways to make it better. We asked, and several wineries across Canada offered free shipping on June 28th. In honour of both events (and it was a Saturday), we invited lots of local wine folks over to celebrate both occasions with too much food and lots of great wines from across Canada.

Low: Sadly, i4c2014. After last year’s tremendous event, I convinced another couple and my wife to attend the World Tour Grand Tasting & Dinner, despite the rather high cost. We found the lack of preparation for the weather (and subsequent poor communication) on the day of the event less than stellar. Once there, the makeshift arrangements where they had spread out the winemakers and their wines in one of the dining tents crowded with tables and chairs made it next to impossible to move around. In 2013 when it had been outside, I tasted more than twenty-five different Chardonnays vs the six I was able to get to in 2014. Then at the dinner, the server at our table repeatedly returned with the same local (&inexpensive) Chardonnay. If we hadn’t been seated with a very vocal Michael Pinkus, that’s all we would have tasted during dinner. Michael’s complaints finally resulted in a 8-10 different wines appearing. The food was good, but not good enough to make the costs of the event seem at all reasonable.

High: Despite the i4c event being disappointing, we had a fantastic tour of Niagara wineries including Leaning Post Wines, Kew Vineyards, Di Profio Wines, Organized Crime Winery, Featherstone Estate Winery, Vineland Estates, Fielding Estate Winery, Stratus Vineyards, Pearl Morissette, and Rockway Vineyards. We also venture out to visit Mark Glover and Bre Paszkat for an incredible dinner of Mark’s smoked meat and some fabulous wines/

High: #GrumpyAndrew pictures from all over the Niagara region. I still laugh every time I think about the pics we were able to take.


#GrumpyAndrew gets a kiss!


Shores of Erie Coin

High: Finally being able to make it to LENS region and explore a little bit of the wine and food scene they have. Less well-known than other Ontario regions, I think it is one of our best kept secrets, and something we need to change. Friend Gary Killops has been telling me about the region for some time and the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival is a great time to visit!

Low: Having tornado-like winds rip through the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival while we were at the winemaker’s dinner. The storm shut down the entire event immediately.

High: Seeing the volunteers recover from the night before and be able to open early the next afternoon. Given the damage and craziness of the night before, one could hardly tell anything had happened. Another great example of community spirit in action!

Shores of Erie International Wine Festival

Shores of Erie International Wine Festival – After the Storm!


High: The end of The Great Canadian Wine Challenge #TGCWC and the awarding of prizes. We had another great celebration to end things (as did others in other parts of the province). People were really impressed with the generous prizes donated by various wineries!

High: The Judgement of PEC event in Toronto in October, and event put on by the PEC chapter of the Ontario Wine Society. I was asked to sit on the panel with other esteemed wine experts and we (along with all the guests), evaluated the top 5 PEC Pinot Noirs against 5 world class Pinots from other parts of the world (all blind). Surprisingly, some of my favourite PEC Pinots were not in the top 5 from PEC and were excluded from the tasting…Paul Dearborn later explained that some that they had wanted in the lineup were not available for purchase at the time they did the selection. The first place did not go to a PEC Pinot, but they did place very well and the Huff Estates Pinot Noir surprised many including myself.

Low: Richard Karlo passing suddenly in November. Many of us who knew him did not know how ill he was and it was a massive shock to the Ontario wine community to learn this sad news.

#ToRichardHigh: The real sense of community that was displayed at the funeral for Richard Karlo and the reception afterwards. It really highlighted the fact that PEC is a farming community first and foremost. Hearing that other winemakers had stepped in to help finish the 2014 wines just added to that spirit, and at least for me, made me wish I lived in the County. 100% class.

High: Dylan Hanselmann first suggested the idea of an online toast to Richard Karlo with the hashtag #ToRichard. It is likely the most fitting tribute I can think of for such a great winemaker and the fact that it took off and reverberated on both Twitter and Facebook shows that it really resonated with those who knew Richard.

Low: I should have put this one last, but I didn’t want to end the year on a low note. The lack of change in the Ontario liquor distribution, despite all the attempts that have been made to date. Things like the movie Straight Up and a few key lawsuits are really shining a light on the issues in Ontario and educating the general population. It will take folks getting and staying upset to make change, but there are signs that things are going to happen in 2015. We’ll see.

High: #ONWineChat. It’s still going, and we crossed episode #90 late in 2014. It’s been fun to see the community develop and engage but there is always room for improvement (and more participants)!



Posted in Beer, Contest, Craft, Experience, Food, Food Pairing, ONWineChat, Prince Edward County, Tasting, Tasting Event, The Great Canadian Wine Challenge | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

My Most Remarkable Ontario Wines of 2014

Yeah, I know. It’s mid-January already…what can I say? I’m slow to finish posts these days. So once again, I have compiled my list of the most remarkable Ontario wine I tasted in 2014. I like to use the term “Remarkable” wines as I don’t score all wines I taste in the year, so I like to go by the wines that fit my own description of remarkable (go read the introduction on this post if you forget all my usual disclaimers). As always, I miss some and forget others, so I am working on a better system for this year. We’ll see how it works in 12 months.

These remarkable wines are the ones that stuck in my head long after tasting. The ones I recall to friends, the ones I snap up when I have the chance to purchase. In many cases, I tasted the wines at an event and then had a bottle at home later with food and/or friends (my preferred method of tasting). Running the Great Canadian Wine Challenge for the better part of 2014, and judging the Lieutenant Governor’s awards meant I tasted a lot of Ontario wine in 2014, so suffice it to say that these are the ones I think of from those 600 or more wines.

Naming a top white and a top red is always difficult, but the white came easily to me this year. I struggled a bit more with the red. My top white wine is Oxley Estate 2013 Chardonnay. There will likely never be another wine made quite like this one, and the raw power of clean fruit just shows beautifully. The red was more challenging, as there were a few that just stuck out. I finally settled on the Leaning Post 2012 Syrah, winning by a hair over the 2012 Syrah from Rockway. I think another year or two in the bottle would make the decision tougher, or possibly even swap it, but I had to give the Leaning Post the win by a hair.

Remarkable Whites (& Sparkling)

Foreign Affair 2010 Riesling: Tasted at the Brock Expert’s tasting, this Riesling stood out from a fine selection of Niagara Riesling (selected by none other than Rick Van Sickle). With a perfect yin and yang, loads of petrol, sweet tree fruit, and honey faced a great core of acidity. $25

Brock Expert's Tasting 2014

Brock Expert’s Tasting 2014

2012 Kittling Ridge Barrel Fermented Chardonnay: Tasted at the Brock Expert’s tasting, this wine stood out for value. At $16.95, this was an excellent display of bright red & green apple, vanilla, smoke, with great acidity. An oaked wine for those who don’t like oaked Chardonnay. I recently tried the 2013 and it was missing the fruity mid-palate that this one had, so if you can find a 2012, snap it up.

2000 Creekside X

Creekside 2000 X: Yes a sparkling wine, a Blanc de Blanc to be exact. I brought this one as the opening wine for the #LostBarrelVertical tasting at Treadwell’s with 11 other wine-lovers.
This one was kind of an experiment, left on the lees for 10 years. It naturally has loads of toast, lees, brioche notes amid some bright citrus that keeps it fresh. A wonderful treat from Creekside, and a great starter to a night of fine wine. $50

Pearl Morissette 2011 Cuvée Dix-Neuvième

Pearl Morissette 2011 Cuvée Dix-Neuvième

2011 Pearl Morrisette Cuvée Dix-Neuvième Chardonnay: Tasted at WineWire.ca pop-up wine shop event in Ottawa. Tasted again at the winery in July. A nose of apple brioche, cream, cashews, and sweet fruit turns to citrus & flinty minerality after a second in your mouth. Finishes with light floral blossoms and some spicy ginger. With judicious use of oak, this is an elegant, balanced Chardonnay. $40

Brian Schmidt

Mr. Riesling Himself, Brian Schmidt

Vineland Estates 2009 Concerto Riesling: Tasted at the winery, July. Winemaker Brian Schmidt’s project to ferment the Riesling from the different soil types gave us Alto, Soprano, and Falsetto – each displaying uniques characteristics. Concerto brings all of these three together in perfect harmony with peach, apricot, lemon, apple and light diesel on the nose, fresh crisp green apple and citrus on the palate with a lingering lemon finish that cleanses the residual sugar. $30

Organized Crime Winery 2009 Reserve Riesling: Tasted at the winery, July. Not just another Riesling. This one spent 7 months in oak – the apricot, pear and honey add slight toast and vanilla notes. The palate is fresh with green apple and lemon, and a distinctive beeswax finish that can only be described as “unctuous”. $21

Rockway 2013 Wild Ferment Chardonnay

Rockway 2013 Wild Ferment Chardonnay

Rockway Vineyards 2013 Small Lot Chardonnay: Tasted at winery, July. This wild ferment Chardonnay also hadn’t been bottled yet when we tasted it, but I have had it since at another event in Ottawa. Apple, lemon, light smoke on the nose adds some green apple and very light brioche notes on the palate. There was little agitation/stirring, so the buttery lees component is subdued. The oak is just perceptible, and adds a light caramel note and memorable texture. $22.95

Murray & Anne Wilson of Oxley Estate Winery

Murray & Anne Wilson of Oxley Estate Winery

Oxley Estate 2013 Chardonnay: We finally travelled to LENS to attend the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival in September. This wine won best white wine in the competition at the festival, and it is easy to see why. Errors in operation of the new grape press meant that this was almost a “free run” pressing. Owner/winemaker Murray Wilson says the grapes they removed from the press were almost still whole! The result is a huge, ripe, unoaked fruit bomb of tangerine, ripe melon, cooked apples, and tropical fruit. On the palate there’s also some white flower honey sweetness, and then a pleasant green apple and citrus finish that cleanses and makes you forget how much fruit you just had in your mouth. Given that the press operation is understood now, it is unlikely that this wine will ever be made again. Considering how much fruit went into each bottle, this is a steal at $18.95. Remarkable indeed, and my favourite white wine of the year!

Big Head 2013 Chenin Blanc

Big Head 2013 Chenin Blanc

Big Head 2013 Chenin Blanc: Wine Align Champions Tasting, October. Having somehow lucked into being the one millionth login on the Wine Align site, I won two tickets to this amazing event in Toronto. Even more lucky was that we figured out a way to go down and attend the event on a Thursday night! We tasted many great wines that night. This Chenin stood out for me (more so than the 2012 and 2011 on offer) because of the balance – loads of fresh, ripe tropical fruit (tangerine & pineapple) offset with some fresh-cut straw and crisp acidity. With some earthy notes that will likely develop over time (more like the 2011), the finish just lasts and lasts. $25

Hinterland 2014 Ancestral: Tasted at private event in Ottawa in December. Known affectionately as “the babymaker”, this off-dry, Gamay-based sparkler appeals to those new to wine as much as it does to wine connoisseurs. Winemaker Jonas Newman explains that they have ever-so-slightly dialed back the residual sugar each year, and the 2014 is likely my favourite of the 5 years I have tried. Lovely bright fruit of strawberry and cherry, finishing with a slight sour cherry/cranberry tartness. With low alcohol, balanced acidity and sweetness, this wine can be enjoyed any time of the day. Released late fall every year, this one is disappearing fast. $25

Remarkable Reds (& Rosé)


Lost Barrel Vertical Tasting at Treadwells

Lost Barrel Vertical Tasting at Treadwells

2004 Creekside Lost Barrel: From a #LostBarrelVertical event organized by Gary Killops, a dozen wine geeks got together for a fantastic dinner at Treadwell’s and opened the 4 vintages – 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2007. The Lost Barrel wines are made by taking all of the barrel tippings (the sludge left in the barrels) and putting it all together and then racking off repeatedly until there is clear juice remaining. Although all were very good, the 2004 stood out for me – it simply had all the parts moving in harmony after all those years. With loads of rich, brooding dark fruit and loads of spicy oak influence, this is a rich and tannic monster that is starting to tame but still has loads of life left in it. $75 (I think).

2013 Hubbs Creek Gamay Rosé Sussreserve: Tasted at Savvy Company’s ‘County in The City’ event, April. I poured for Hubb’ Creek at this event, and the crowd-pleaser was this remarkable Rosé. Sweet strawberry, raspberry, and a hint of melon turns to a remarkable dry citrus finish with grapefruit pith and lemon peel notes. Appeals to both those that like dryRosé and those that prefer their’s a little sweeter. $18

2009 Rancourt Meritage

2009 Rancourt Meritage

2009 Rancourt Winery Meritage: Tasted right after the Lieutenant Governor’s awards (I found out later we had tasted it during the judging and this wine had almost made it to the final list), I right away asked if this wine had been entered in the awards. They weren’t sure which wines had been entered but I was sure this was it as it tasted so similar. It shows lots of fruit, a little tannic tightness, and nice earth & leather tones from a few years of age (and will age a bit longer still). Good example of Ontario Meritage with a bit of age on it. A great value at $20.

Back 10 Cellars Big Leap Cab Franc

Back 10 Cellars Big Leap Cab Franc



2012 Back 10 Cellars The Big Leap Cabernet Franc: Using a combination of new, 1, 2 ,and 3 year old barrels imparted a very light oak influence on this wine, with just hints of toast and smoke. The nose is dominated by sweet raspberry and black cherry. The palate follows with black cherry, but adds a crisp red cherry freshness before finishing smooth. $28.95

Leaning Post 2012 Syrah

Leaning Post 2012 Syrah

Leaning Post 2012 Syrah: Heading down to i4c2014, we made sure to stop in and see Ilya and Nadia as they had released their Syrah that we had sampled in the barrel in December 2013. The nose was a luscious combination of smoked meat, dark fruit, and surprisingly, a hint of lavender. The palate displayed dark, peppery fruit and ended with an elegant floral note. Powerful structure – one to lay for a while. Big, yet elegant. A beauty of a wine, and my favourite red wine of 2014. $42


Stratus Winery

Stratus 2010 Cab Sauvignon: Tasted at the winery, July. The nose is earthy leather (reminds me of a saddle), forest floor with dark cherry and cassis. There’s sweet spice, a hint of menthol and some dried fruit notes that emerge over time. The palate is bright cherry with some sour cherry compliments. There’s quite a huge tannic structure to the wine that says put it away for a few years at least (or decant and serve it with some rare meat). $55

Pearl Morissette

Pearl Morissette 2013  Cuvée Mon Unique Gamay: Tasted at winery, July. Brilliant purple-red. Nose of cooked strawberry jam as it cools. Light menthol/fernet nose. Bright and frolicky in your mouth. Palate added smoked meat, loads of black pepper, and a slightly earthy note. Retasted in December and some of the strawberry notes have subsided and it seems a little more earthy and peppery. Will likely change again over time. Intriguing wine. $26 (I think)




Rockway winemaker David Stasiuk draws a sample. Friend Calvin Hanselmann loves the Syrah!

Rockway winemaker David Stasiuk draws a sample. Friend Calvin Hanselmann loves the Syrah!

Rockway 2012 Small Lot Block 12-140 Syrah: Tasted at the winery, July. I have several tasting notes for the Syrah were from barrels of various oak influence, but I did manage to taste it again in November at the Savvy event in Ottawa to see the final blended product. I dragged everyone I knew and even strangers over to sample this wine as it really stood out. Loads of dark cherry, pepper, spice, light smoke, light caramel on the nose are matched with red cherry, dark cherry, smoke, and spice on the palate. A finish that goes on and on. One that will age nicely if you can stay out of it!  $27.95


Muscedere Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Muscedere Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Muscedere 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon: One of our first stops in LENS when we travelled down for the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival in September. Fellow Ontario wine-lover Gary Killops first turned me onto Muscedere’s Cabernet Sauvignon at a Tastecamp event in 2011 and he’s shared other bottles with us since. We managed to pick up a couple of bottles of the current release 2011 and winemaker Rob Muscedere also dug out a couple bottles of the 2010 for us. The 2010 is very smooth, full-bodied and rich with red and black cherry notes and a hint of cassis. On the palate, they add some cigar box notes, chocolate, and hints of Old World earthiness. This wines all about balance – tannins are in check, but there’s enough there to age this for some time. $30 (The 2012 Cab Franc is a nice find at a reasonable $18 as well!)

Winemaker Rori McCaw at Coopers Hawk

Winemaker Rori Mccaw at Coopers Hawk

Coopers Hawk 2012 Merlot Reserve: Tasted September at the Winery with the engaging winemaker Rori Mccaw. We’d met Rori at some Cuveé events in Niagara and we were excited to finally visit the winery. She walked us through an extensive portfolio (all were very good) but this one stood out for me. Cropped down to 2 ton/acre (vs. 4), this is a huge fruit bomb with dark plums, stewed fruit, and black cherry dominating the nose and palate. There’s sweet spice, milk chocolate, and vanilla notes from the oak influence. The palate is all about dark berries and black cherry though, all held in check with great acidity and tannins. A fine wine now that you can also age. $35

Rosewood Estates 2012 Origin Cabernet Franc

Rosewood Estates 2012 Origin Cabernet Franc

Rosewood Estates 2012 Origin Reserve Cabernet Franc: Wine Align Champions Tasting, October. I like two very different styles of Cab Franc – the light, delicate and floral ones, and then the large fruit-bombs. This is the latter style – with 26 Brix at harvest and a wild ferment, this wine exudes big dark berries and the nose gives the indication that it will be very sweet. The palate is more reserved though, with some slightly tannic red cherry juiciness. The finish persists long after the glass has left your mouth. The overall structure means this will last a considerable time in the cellar. $26


Vineland Estates 2012 Elevation Cabernet

Vineland Estates 2012 Elevation Cabernet

Vineland Estates 2012 Cabernet Elevation: Savvy Selections Tasting, November. Fantastic growing conditions in 2012 give us a big, rich red wine that some say are like “Napa Valley meets Bordeaux”. Rich, dark brooding fruit greet the nose, with some earthy and leathery notes following. With a plush, full mouthfeel, the black cherry, cassis, and ripe plum flavours are balanced with moderate acidity and fine tannic structure. Over time, some lifted menthol and sweet spice notes emerge, and the palate adds light mocha notes. $25


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