As you may recall, I like talking about “Remarkable” wines as I don’t score all wines I taste in the year, and I have trouble finding the ones that would score the highest (go read the introduction on this post if you forget all my usual disclaimers). I like to talk about the remarkable wines – the ones that stick in my head long after tasting. Here then, is my list of remarkable wines of 2013. I’ve arranged the wines in chronological order of where I was when I tasted them (or so I think). And yes, once again I have forgotten many of the wines I tasted and didn’t write notes for (and even some I do have notes for).
“What was your top wine?” you ask? If I had to pick one red and one white wine that stood out as the most spectacular in each class, I would have to say the 2011 Cab Franc from The Old Third, and Bachelder’s 2010 Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay. Both of these wines have stuck in my head long after tasting, and they both stir something visceral when I think of them.
I’ve got a bubbly in with the whites, as well as an aged Icewine. We typically drink a ton of great white wine every summer and this year was no exception. That being said, I had a harder time picking out the most remarkable whites…and I think it is because the overall quality of Ontario whites is so high now, that finding the ones that stand out has become more challenging than ever. I know the wine I drank most often this summer was Lighthall’s Progression Sparkling Vidal (on my list from last year) – it is an inexpensive, fun wine that we pull out regularly.
2010 Vineland Estates Winter Solstice: A “Connections Wine Club” members-only wine, Vineland surprised us with two bottles of this exclusive wine in the December 2011 shipment. Caramel, vanilla, and toast notes peek out from behind the dominant cassis and black cherry nose in this blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are light fresh cedar notes and a hint of alcohol in the background (it is a moderate 13% ABV). On the palate, dark plums, cassis, and red currants are surrounded in dark chocolate and sweet spices, leading ti a long dark cherry finish. There’s ample acidity that would make this a very food friendly wine and the light tannins make it ready to drink now or hold for a few years. $40.00
2010 Pondview Bela Terra Cab Franc Reserve: Top-end Cabernet Francs are one of my favourites, and top-end reds from 2010 in Ontario grabbed my attention this year. This wine is dominated by dark cherry and cassis on the nose and palate, with no indication of the green pepper that can be found in cooler years. There’s some light spice and vanilla from the oak treatment and the wine finishes with a slight tannic cherry finish. Tasted at the Savvy Company February Wine & Cheese with a Twist event here in Ottawa. $29.95
2010 Colio Estate Vineyards CEV Signature Series Syrah: Another surprise from a winery I might have bypassed, but my Essex-area friend Gary Killops practically dragged me over to the booth. Winemaker Lawrence Buhler (recently installed here after leaving Peller) has created a beautiful (and again underpriced at $20, IMHO) French-styled Syrah. With a nose of black cherry and black currants, there is a definite pepper spiciness to this one. New American and European oak provide some dreamy mocha and smoky notes on the palate. Tasted at the Cuvée Grand Tasting event in March.
2010 Peninsula Ridge Vintners Private Reserve Merlot: With notes of sweet dark fruit like plums and blackberries on the nose, the palate is remarkably dry and reserved, and the wine finishes with smooth but present tannins. It’s one of those wines that have a great structure and appears that it will age for quite some time, exposing more and more each year. Also tasted at the Cuvée Grand Tasting event in March. $29.95
2010 Pilliteri Exclamation Cab Franc: I was convinced this was the Picone Vineyard Cabernet Franc from Ravine Vineyards (one of my most remarkable 2012 wines and definitely worthy to be on this list again in 2013) when I tasted it at the expert’s tasting. Turns out I was wrong (as I was many, many times that day), but I found a new favourite! Luscious dark fruit, well balanced and a wine that just says “take me home with you”! Tasted at the Brock CCOVI Expert’s tasting event in March. $38.00. As a side note, the Picone Vineyard Cab Franc still makes this list, for the second year in a row.
2010 Malivoire Stouck Vineyard Cabernet Merlot: There’s kirsch (cherry & alcohol), cassis, great tannic structure in this purple-hued beauty. The long, tannic finish has already mellowed and a November 2013 re-taste of several Ontario Cabernet-Merlots had unanimous agreement that this was the best blend in the tasting that evening. Originally tasted at the Brock CCOVI Expert’s tasting event in March. $29.95
2011 Lighthall Vineyards Pinot Noir: This $25 beauty made in the old-fashion method (foot-stomped) sold out quickly this year and it was no surprise. A wonderful melee of red fruits and sweet spices is backed up with a great acidic backbone and just the right amount of finesse that made this wine so sought after by tourists and experts alike. Great drinking now, it should continue to improve dining experiences for the next few years. All gone now, so ask your friends if they have any, or wait for the 2012 to come out soon.
2010 Hubbs Creek Pinot Noir: Hubb’s Creek was our best new PEC discovery this year, and the Pinot Noir is the key reason (the wonderful personality of winemaker/owner Battista (John) Calvieri was the other). The 2010 production of only 105 cases disappeared quickly and we understood why. The wine was partly wild-fermented and then spent 15 months in a mix of new and old French & Hungarian barrels. With a bright cherry nose and light sweet spice and vanilla notes, the palate exploded with fresh cherry & cranberry fruit and crisp acidity. There are very light tannins and just enough sweetness to keep it balanced. Tasted at the winery on the May “Terroir” weekend. $28.95
2010 Rosewood Estates Lock, Stock, & Barrel: Big, bold, dark fruits such as blackberry, black currant, and hints of blueberry dominate the nose on this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. With round, ripe tannins, the mouthfeel is surprisingly smooth for such a big wines. The palate offers dried fruit and a long, elegant and well-balanced finish. With some time in the glass some light hibiscus and rosehip notes joined the dark brooding fruit. Tasted at the winery $34.00
2010 Ravine Vineyard Picone Cabernet Franc: I had the chance to have a bottle of this at Ravine Vineyards with dinner at the winery this summer and I can only say that this wine is still unbelievably great. I’m glad I have a couple in my cellar and I’m going to hang onto them for a special occasion. What no tasting notes? Just check out last years’ here.
2011 The Old Third Cabernet Franc: One the prettiest, most delicate Cabernet Francs I have ever tasted. Although Bruno and Jens have always been known as the guys in PEC who make only Pinot Noir, their foray into Cabernet Franc has yielded stunning results! Instead of typical herbaceous notes, the nose is instead lightly perfumed above the fresh cherry pie notes. There’s the perfect amount of sweet spice on the nose and palate, and the light-bodied wine gives off a lusciousness that surprises. Darker fruit rounds out the palate and well integrated tannins provide an excellent vehicle for the medium finish. Tasted at the winery in June, although we also opened another bottle in December and re-lived the experience again. $38 (sold out)
2012 Lailey Vineyards Impromptu: Tasted as futures at the Lailey Futures event here in Ottawa, this delicious blend of 85% Syrah, 10% MAlbec, and 5% Petite Verdot stood out as the wine of the night for me (don’t get me wrong, I love all of the 2012 reds from Lailey and ordered most of them that night). This one though, is stunning, with menthol, pepper, sweet spice and loads of black and red cherry on the nose. The palate adds cassis and blueberry notes, and then finishes through with Damson plum and red cherry. The long cherry finish is buoyed along a nice current of acidity and tannins held in check, but ready for the long haul. Not released yet, but should be $45 when it does come out later this year.
2010 Leaning Post Wines Reserve Merlot: One of the last wines to make this list, as we managed a quick visit in December. Deep ruby with a purple hue, this wine spent a long time (25 months) in a mix of old and new barrels (4 French and 1 Hungarian). Winemaker Ilya Senchuk was even considering selling it off at one point as there was “nothing” for 24.5 months. The last 2 weeks in the barrel offered a fantastic surprise. Dark plums, black cherry, menthol and vanilla dominate the nose. The dark, brooding fruit is embodied in a fine tannic structure that will allow this wine to age for quite some time. A somewhat tart, Damson plum finishes tight but not too grippy, signalling this one will hold for the long run. $38, available at the winery.
2010 Bachelder Wismer Chardonnay: According to Thomas Bachelder, this wine took 12 months to ferment using wild yeasts…some might call it crazy to risk a wine for that duration of ferment (many are done in a few weeks). The wine speaks of minerality from the vineyards near Vineland. Apple, citrus and great acidity amid a fantastic smooth, buttery touch that leaves you craving more. I now understand why a Bachelder ON Chardonnay made the top of Rick Van Sickle’s top Ontario wines for 2012. Tasted at the Cuvée Grand Tasting event in March. $44.95
2011 Coopers Hawk Riesling: I knew the LENS region could make great red wines, so I was surprised that the sole winery representing the region at Cuvée had a Riesling. Done in the great off-dry style of Mosel (or even the Niagara bench), this 2nd vintage for winemaker Rori McCaw showed great lemon-lime, tropical fruit, and decent minerality. The sweet mid-palate is cleansed with great acidity and a refreshing citrus finish. Tasted at the Cuvée Grand Tasting event in March. $15.95 (LCBO seems to be sold out).
1993 Chateau Des Charmes Brut Sparkling Wine: Tasted at the Savvy Rare Wines Event in the spring, this was the wine that I dragged everyone I knew over to taste. This is one of those almost-mythical wines, forgotten about in the warehouse and then discovered recently, albeit in magnum size. On lees since 1994, the wine exhibits a lovely, fine mousse and the wine is surprisingly more green apple and citrus than yeasty given the years on lees. The palate is refreshing and crisp, making this the perfect aperitif wine. There were very limited quantities of this but it is a remarkable wine if you can find one. $75.00 I believe (1.5L)
1987 Reif Vidal IceWine: Although it is difficult to classify this wine as “white” given the dark tawny colour that the 25+ years of ageing has given this wine, it did start off as a light coloured vidal icewine. Now exhibiting a nose of dried figs, raisins and oranges, the palate adds nutty components of almonds and marzipan, the overall effect being that of drinking a rich Christmas cake. There are some dark tea and milk chocolate notes on the finish. If you needed an excuse to squirrel away some Vidal icewine to open way into the future, this was it. Sadly not for sale, but delicious nonetheless. Also tasted at the Savvy Rare Wines Event.
2010 Exultet The Blessed Chardonnay: A beautiful Chardonnay from the County with some round, fleshy tree fruits from the warmer year mixed with sweet spices and some toasty notes. Incredible length accompanied by some moderate acidity and just enough minerality to remind you from whence it came. $35. Tasted at the winery Terroir weekend and I’m pretty sure sold out long ago.
2011 Cave Springs The Adam Steps Riesling: Tasted at the winery on the Cuvee weekend, I didn’t open any of my bottles yet. While out for dinner in Ottawa with Krista Lamb and her husband who were in town on vacation, we ordered a bottle at the restaurant and I was whisked away again by the mingled flavours of peach, hammering minerality, juicy acidity and a crisp lemon-peel finish. $25, available at the winery.
2009 Vineland Estates “Expressions in D” Concerto: Tasted in June at the winery, and again in Ottawa at the last Savvy event of the year, this wine is absolutely stunning. Winemaker Brian Schmidt separated the vineyard into three different plots based on the soil differences and produced three stunning, but slightly different wines in the “Expressions in D” series. Concerto is the blend of all three and brings bountiful peach, mango, tangerine, lemon, lime and wildflower honey in a harmonious blend that offers racy acidity and a strong mineral core. An amazing wine that brings you back again and again. $30
2012 Back 10 Cellars “The Big Reach” Riesling: We loved out little visit with Andrew Brooks of Back 10 Cellars, tasting this beauty out in the vineyard. Citrus and sweet stone fruit flavours mingle in a yin & yang of sour and sweetness. Dominant lemon-lime is joined with tangerine and light petrol notes, all supported on a great core of minerality and razor sharp acidity. $25
2011 13th Street Sandstone Reserve Chardonnay: Tasted as part of the Curry & Chardonnay pairing at the i4c Cool Chardonnay event in July. Peter Bodnar Rod mentioned that this wine had spent 8 months in oak, with regular stirring of the lees. The lees was definitely noticeable on this one and reminded me of apples and cream. The palate had a similar creamy richness to it, and a fresh core of acidity. Creamy and fresh, a great contrast in the mouth. As the wine warmed further, the lees became more prominent but not enough to mask the fresh apple. A lovely wine to match with, yes, curry! $26.25
2012 Kew Vineyards Marsanne/Viognier: There is so much going on with this wine that the only way to describe it is to say that it is unlike anything else. 6 months in oak gives the wine some unusual tropical notes of coconut and banana, but this is intertwined with peach and citrus notes. It is an intriguing wine, and it calls you back each time for further exploration. $18.95, tasted at the winery in December.