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
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.
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
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
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 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
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: 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)
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 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.
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: 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 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 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 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 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!)
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 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 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