At the end of each year I like to look back at wines sampled throughout the year that really stuck in my head – wines that made an impression for one reason or another. As per last year, here’s what I am using to denote “remarkable”:
Remarkable has a couple definitions, here are two I found:
1. notably or conspicuously unusual; extraordinary: a remarkable change.
2.worthy of notice or attention.
Some of you will have questions, so I took the liberty of answering ones I could ahead of time:
Is the list complete? By no means. I only taste a very small percentage of wines produced each year in Ontario. The travel time, accommodations, and meals make touring the major wine regions quite expensive and depending on what’s going on in our family, we have some years with more travel than others.
Have I forgotten something I tasted but don’t have tasting notes for? You can be sure. We often enjoy wines and I can’t always have a notebook out to capture the moment!
Are you afraid to rank them? Not really – it’s just that they are all very different wines, in very different ways. I love great Cab Franc and great Riesling from Ontario, so I would likely have those wines weighted more heavily if I was ranking. If you want a great ranked list from the fellow I consider the authority on Niagara wine, check out Rick VanSickle’s list here.
Did you copy some from Rick’s list? No, although Rick provides such exhaustive coverage that I often check out stellar recommendations from him when I do get to Niagara. I seldom scoop him, although rarely I’ll find the gems before he does.
Do you get compensated for putting these on your list? Were you given these wines? Not at all. Every wine listed here is (or was) in my cellar, bought and paid for with my own money. For the few times when I am given samples to review, I point that out in the review.
Do you know there are wine regions outside of Niagara? Of course! We didn’t make it to Prince Edward County once in 2012 (although I did manage to nab a few wines from there), and we still haven’t found the means to get down to the EPIC (LENS) region for a tour. As you’ll see then, most of these wines are from the Niagara region…it’s just the way things happened for us this year. So with all those disclaimers off the table, and in no particular order, here’s what struck me as remarkable in 2012:
Ravine Vineyard 2010 Picone Cabernet Franc: I managed to have this wine on three different occasions in 2012, and it just keeps getting better every time I taste it. From my first taste in March: The nose is dark cherries with a slight floral note. The palate has loads of luscious dark cherries, black raspberries, and rich, ripe plums, finishing with light spice and tobacco notes. The medium tannins, nice acidity and delicate care in integrating all these components mean that this wine will drink very nicely now or for the next 5-7 years. Later tasting notes noticed “…there was more blueberry and cassis notes on both the nose and palate, and I detected a light menthol note on the nose I had missed before. The mineral core was really showing now and I can only say that this wine was even more delicious than before.”. One of my favourite Cabernet Francs of all time. $40, and there might still be some at the winery.
Fielding Estate Winery 2010 Viognier: There are a couple of wineries I get to all the time and/or belong to their wine club, and I find it difficult to pick just one wine. With Fielding, I could easily have picked the Cabernet Franc, the Lot 17 Riesling, or even the disappearing (gone?) 2007 Meritage, but because there isn’t a lot of Viognier grown in Ontario, I found this the most remarkable. Viognier has to have one of the most expressive noses of any wine and this one does not disappoint with candied fruit notes like bananas, pineapples, and pears. There’s a hint of something floral and as it warmed, the nose was reminiscent of juicy-fruit gum. A mouthful of smooth fruit cocktail with a slight spiciness on the palate finishes long. A beauty that I think I would just sip slowly on a long afternoon. $25.95
100 Marks 2010 Red: We had a magnificent tasting at Marynissen Estates (where the winemaker Jeff Hundertmark was also running his virtual winery 100 Marks) when we first sampled this wine. Here’s the notes and why this wine made the list: Although we had been bowled over with the big reds of Marynissen, I hadn’t taken my mind off the bottle of 100 Marks sitting on the tasting counter. I’ve come to love the care and attention paid to the artisan style wines that are being made at these virtual wineries and have been surprised by all that I have tasted. As Grayson introduced the wine, and explained how Jeff babied this wine, checking on it multiple times a day, my anticipation only grew. With a 90% / 10% blend of Pinot Noir / Gamay, the wine first presents an almost unbelievable red colour that masks the component fruit. The nose gives off bright cherry and sweet spice, and the palate follows with a luscious dark cherry, kirsch and vanilla notes. With palate cleansing acidity, it really is a beautiful wine. I was lucky enough to return home with the opened bottle and had a couple neighbours over to sample it and none of them would believe that it was a Pinot/Gamay blend. At $35, there will definitely be a lineup when this releases later this year. The 100 Marks label was also sold with the Marynissen winery, so the 100 Marks labels will change to Marynissen (along with a modest price increase), but it is still available. Noteworthy is also the 100 Marks White, a white merlot that thrilled our wine tour guests late in the summer.
Stanners Vineyard 2010 Pinot Gris “Cuivré: After hearing about this wine from both Dann Tanner and Rick Van Sickle, I knew I had to find a way to get some. By the time I contacted the winery, it was sold out. Owner Mary tracked down a couple of remaining “blemished” bottles for me and I made arrangements with a friend touring the County to get them back to Ottawa for me. Not only did this wine have much more of a copper colour than I expected, but there were decent tannins from the slightly prolonged skin contact. There is lots of fresh fruit on the nose and palate, finishing with sharper tangerine peel notes. Great acidity, great County minerality. Was $25 but this vintage is no longer available. I don’t see a current vintage on their site, but hopefully one arrives soon.
2027 Cellars 2010 Pinot Noir: Another virtual winery, 2027 Cellars is headed by Kevin Panagapka and run out of Featherstone Estate Winery. Kevin spends a lot of his efforts ensuring that he sources premium fruit for his wines, and the care and attention to that selection process shows through in his finished products. Here’s what I wrote about this back in the spring: Like the 2011, Kevin has gone more “masculine” with the 2010 Pinot. Very fruit forward with cherry and spice on the nose, the oak is mellow and takes a backseat to the dominant fruit. There is a long cherry and spiced vanilla finish on the wine. Given the power in this, it is no wonder that Kevin recommends that this can cellar for 5-8 years. Only 160 cases were made. $35 if any is still available (website still lists it).
Stratus 2010 Icewine Red: Another new winery stop for us this year was Stratus. It could have been an intimidating first visit were it not for the great warmth of our host (you can read more about the visit here). Here’s my notes from that trip: At 15.5% alcohol, a lot of the sugar in this wine has been fermented into alcohol. But it is by no means lacking in sweet, juicy fruit at 140g/L. The nose hits you right away – strawberry-rhubarb pie…not just out of the oven but more after the fruit has cooled slightly and offers a bit more of those jammy notes. The acid is in total balance with the sugar in this beauty and is likely the finest, most appealing ice wine I’ve yet to encounter. $40, and there is some still in LCBO stores (as well as at the winery).Lighthall Vineyards 2011 Vidalesco (Sparkling): Vidal isn’t the most interesting grape (some would even call it boring), and other than being used widely for Icewine, we don’t see much of single varietals being made with it (a few exceptions come to mind – Hernder, Sue Anne Staff, etc.). Winemaker/owner Glenn Symons decided to take this common grape and add a twist, creating a sparkling wine that is fresh and fun. With plenty of citrus and fresh appples on the nose and palate, this makes a great accompaniment for appetizers or light fair any time of year. Sipping this ice cold on a patio would also be another refreshing way to enjoy. Now my favourite style in which to ingest Vidal. $20, and the “new and improved” 2012 is now available at the winery. Karlo Estates 2010 The 5th Element (Petit Verdot): Petit Verdot is also rare in Ontario, and rarer in the form of a single varietal wine (it is usually blended). I had the opportunity to taste this wine twice in the barrel, and when it was finally released I grabbed some and hung onto it, waiting for a special occasion. I finally decided I couldn’t wait any longer and opened a bottle in November. The nose was sweet, rich, almost jammy plums and black cherry, with light notes of vanilla, cedar, and pencil shavings. There is a definite herbaceousness behind the dark fruit that is more noticeable on the palate – not unlike a freshly opened cigar box with cedar and tobacco notes. There’s some decent acidity rounding out this well structured wine. $39, available at the winery.
Palatine Hills 2010 Neufeld Vineyard Cabernet Franc: We’ve been following winemaker Jeff Innes from his days in the County at the Grange and have stopped in a couple of times at Palatine Hills. We finally opened one of the few bottles of this Cabernet Franc that I picked up in the spring. Sweet raspberry and blueberry with nice toasty oak (vanilla) and sweet spice aromas. Gorgeous dark fruit on the palate with dried cherries & blueberries, and the recurring sweet spice and vanilla. Well integrated tannins, decent acidity. Drinking lovely now, this will only improve over the next few years. A premium Ontario Cab Franc at a very reasonable $20.
13th Street Winery 2010 Sandstone “Old Vines” Gamay: We finally made it to this winery (after several failed attempts) and we were blown away by the quality of all the offerings. This Gamay really stood out for me and here’s what I captured: This Cuvee award winner is superbly integrated, from the nose to the finish. Cherry, sweet spice, with some cedar and oak notes and a hint of alcohol on the nose. Bright acidity keeps the bold cherry fruit in check. With a decent tannic structure from 9-10 months in oak, this wine should hold together for several more years and expose even more character. $29.95
Lailey 2010 Cabernet Franc (Unfiltered): Yes I realize there are a lot of Cabernet Francs on this list. I was on a bit of a Cab Franc kick in 2012 and it just happened that I opened lots of remarkable Cab Francs this year. If I had opened any of the other wines from the Lailey futures shipment, it would have likely made this list…it just happened to be this one. Here’s my original tasting notes: Tons of dark fruit and just an edge of sweet spice. Lots of tannins here that will integrate nicely with all the fruit over some time. I’m going to buy some of this and stick it away for a couple years…I’m sure the reward will be amazing! Futures Price $20.20, Release Price $30.20 This wine sold out very early in the year, so I am going to sit on mine and try them over the next few years. We did open one over the summer and were blown away at how well the wine was integrating – but still dominated by those big, bold, dark fruit. I’m hoping for a 2012 Futures program around the end of 2013…
The Old Third 2010 Pinot Noir: With the heat of 2010, this Pinot has a bigger, fruitier body that either the 2008 or 2009. The nose is first red raspberries and cherries with sweet spice from the nicely integrated oak. There are nuances of something herbal and a light earthiness. On the palate, the fruit is sweet and supple, the tannins and acidity in nice balance with the fruit. The County minerality shines through and the finish is slightly tart cherry/cranberry. Without tasting side by side I would have to guess whether I like this more than the 2009, but both of them are in my list of favourite wines from the County (and I’m collecting until I can do a full 6-7 year vertical). $42, very limited numbers remaining (if any) at the winery.
Creekside Estate Winery 2007 The Lost Barrel: I have to confess I’m not sure if I tasted this exact wine or not when we visited in March, as the description I had included 50% Shiraz tippings from 2006. Either way- the tasting I had blew me away: 2007 Lost Barrel and 2006 Shiraz Tippings: This 50/50 blend of 2007 Lost Barrel and 2006 Shiraz Tippings had an unbelievable jammy fruit nose – as big as anything we see from California or Australia. The fruit exploded in the mouth and the supporting fine tannins gave an unbelievable full bodied mouthfeel – smooth and luscious but not the least bit flabby. Released late in the fall, it won’t last long. $65 (for more on the “Lost Barrel” process, see the notes here) Correction: Apparently the 2007 Lost Barrel only contained 20% of he 2006 Shiraz “tippings”, so the percentages should have been 80%/20% and not 50%/50%.
Di Profio 2011 Sauvignon Blanc: We’ve stayed with the Di Profio’s a couple of times in their B&B, and likely know more about this family than most others just because of the breakfast chats we have had each time. I had a hard time deciding between the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Sauvignon Blanc because both of these hand-picked wines stood out for me. I decided on the Sauvignon Blanc in the end with these notes: We’d heard a lot about the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc but hadn’t been able to taste any due to the strange laws that control liquor distribution in Ontario, so we were happy to secure some of the 2011. Done in more of a New Zealand style, the nose offered notes of citrus, traditional gooseberry, and a hint of fresh cut grass (but no cat pee aromas!). Crisp, acidic palate of lemon and even some grapefruit pith finished nicely. Super refreshing – we enjoyed a bottle of this on the patio a few weeks later. $17, but unfortunately, sold out already. Watch for the 2012 soon.
Coyotes Run 2010 Black Paw Chardonnay: My wife Debbie came across the Black Paw in an LCBO release and fell in love with the full bodied, creamy textures. When we planned our August trip, we knew we wanted to try more of the wines here, so we included Coyote’s Run as a stop. Here’s the notes I wrote then after just sampling the Red Paw Chardonnay (which is lighter and a little more Burgundian in style): With stronger notes of green apple and citrus dominating the nose, the palate gushes with full-bodied fruit. There is a dreamy creaminess and smokiness to this wine from the decent oak integration that made it Debbie’s favourite Chardonnay of the 2010 vintage. $21.95, and there are still a few bottles in the LCBO on sale at $19.95.
Henry of Pelham 2007 Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot: Finally getting to visit Henry of Pelham winery was indeed a highlight for us this year. The wines that we sampled were all of high quality but the one that stood out the most was this Cabernet Merlot blend. Here’s the tasting note: Fruit filled without being jammy, the nose exudes fruit (raspberry and blackberry) and oak notes on an expressive earthy background. The wine is dry and spicy mid-palate with mocha notes above the delicious fruit. The tannins are a bit drying, the moderate acidity refreshing, and the fruit finish lingers beautifully. Loved this. $50, 2010 vintage available at the winery.
Vineland Estates 2011 Riesling Elevation (St. Urban): Combining the St. Urban and Elevation series into a single release was a measure to simplify the product line a bit. An LCBO Essentials at $19.95, this is again a stellar example of the great Riesling the bench (in the hands of crafter winemaker Brian Schmidt) can produce. Here’s the notes (I haven’t dared open any since): The nose is loads of fruit with lemon-lime, peaches and nectarines. There is a hint of flint (minerality) on the nose that alludes to the evident minerality once you taste it. This wine absolutely rocks your palate with juicy honeyed peaches followed by crisp acidity. Buy lots and drink now through the next 10 years if you think you can leave it alone. Available at the LCBO or the winery.