Sunday, July 29, 2007

Report from: Outer Limits of Ontario Wine Tasting - July 23, 2007

They came from far and wide (all over Ontario anyway) bringing with them the odd, the unique, the strange and the unforgettable … and that was just the staff. What I’m really talking about here are the “Outer Limits” wines that came from places like Ottawa, Warkworth, Woodstock, Prescott, St. Thomas, Port Perry, Cedar Springs and countless other places you never expected wine to come from. They are the forgotten wineries, the ones you’ve never heard of, the ones opening on the frontiers and the fringes in places you’ve seen on a map or drove through on your way to somewhere else, but never stopped in. Sure there are some you recognize like Southbrook, Stoney Ridge, Lakeview, Peninsula Ridge and Black Prince; but for every one you know there are four more you don’t: Ocala, Scotch Block, Green Gables, Rush Creek and Birtch Farms. They are the wineries the VQA forgot; they make wines from fruits that aren’t grapes and grapes that aren’t vinifera or are located in a non-DVA (Designated Viticultural Area). Wines with names like Cherries n’ Chocolate, Tufford Fine Port, Crimson Cranberry, TGI Frontenac, Back From the Dead Red and Cabaret Franc. At this, the first, and hopefully annual, Ontario Wine Society hosted event – and spearheaded by Larry “little fat wino” Patterson – over 40 wineries brought more than 212 wines to sip and sample so we could see what’s going on in The Outer Limits of Ontario’s winemaking community.

Now there is no way to taste this many wines in an afternoon and still walk away upright – so I foregoed the Southbrooks and Sunnybrooks of the tasting and concentrated more on those lesser known wineries and those off the beaten track. Even with that as a goal in mind I plowed through quite a few wines. And so without further ado I bring you my Outer Limits Awards for 2007:

Best Red:
Not that there were a ton of red wines, many of the wines showcased at this event were fruit based and hybrid grape varieties. But there is this new winery in Outer Mongolia, they call it Warkworth (north of Colbourne), called Oak Heights, where they made a 2006 Cabernet Franc ($19.95) that’s quite good. Some spicy pepper and black cherry flavours emerge as dominant.

Best White:
They have no winery as of, yet. They don’t have a price on any of their wines; though the wines will range between 12 and 20 dollars. Their website is still under construction, so I have no address for you. But aside from all that, Coffin Ridge (located in Meaford – part of Grey County) makes a couple of outstanding Rieslings. Terry Rayner, an amateur winemaker of some note, has crafted a Riesling Sur Lies (which spent 3 months on lees) that has good peach and lemon flavours; while his Riesling Sussreserve (in which sweet Riesling juice is added back to the finished wine) is minerally, peachy and limey. A touch of sweetness in each adds to the flavour profile – the Suss is a little sweeter (3) than the Sur Lies (1.5).

Best Non-Wine:
Some of the wineries took the opportunity to showcase something other than wines, though alcohol based none-the-less. Applewood Farm Winery, located north of Stouffville, brought a cider made entirely from raspberries called Crazy Eight ($2.50 – 341ml) - a dangerous summertime drink. 8.8% alcohol made from 100% raspberries, it’s light, refreshing and way too easy to consume way too much. This one’s a real winner. It tastes as good as you think it does, probably even better. And did I mention it’s all raspberry.

Best Good Weird Feeling:
I got this award name from an Odds album, and odd is how I can best describe the wines from Countryman’s Estate Winery (Prescott, Ontario). He had the must try wines of the show, not necessarily because they were so good, but because they were so unique. Tomato n’ Spice, Watermelon, Honeydew Melon … but the one that got jaws a flappin’ was Garden Salad ($13.95) made from cucumbers and smells and tastes just as the name suggests – lettuce and cucumbers. The Cantaloupe wine ($14.95) was also very interesting … I could actually taste the melon through the mid-palate.

Best Use of Icewine:
Tired of the same old same old when it comes to Vidal icewine? Well then it’s time to wonder over to Crown Bench Estates (Beamsville, Ontario). With their selection of infused icewines: Cranberry Ice ($34.95), Raspberry Ice ($34.95), Hot Ice ($36.95 – hot pepper infused), and Ambrosia ($39.95 – Belgian chocolate infused) – each wine starts off with a base of vidal icewine and then it is infused with its flavour profile. And man, aren’t these just the most delicious things; a real special occasion wine.

Best Use of Maple Syrup:
Just because I can I’m gonna give a shout out to Moon Shadows Estate Winery (Haliburton) for his always amazing Strawberry Shortcake and to Muskoka Lakes (Bala) for their Red Maple Dessert Wine. Read my reviews to find out why.

Best Prospect for the Future:
Up near Georgian Bay, Collingwood to be exact, you’ll find the retirement project of Robert Ketchin, Georgian Hills Vineyards. After plenty of test plantings he is growing Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc and a few other grapes on 15 acres. He also called into service the winemaking skills of Lindsay Puddicombe of Puddicombe Estates. The 2006 Chardonnay is light and flavourful with apples, pears and pineapple; the 2006 Seyval Blanc has a touch of sweetness (2) and peach, pineapple and pear as its main flavours – very friendly with lively acidity. A proper winery will open in a few years – good luck Robert.

Best New Use for Apples:
You have to hand it to The County Cider Company (Waupoos – Prince Edward County), one of the leaders for apple cider in Ontario. They have produced County 2000 Methode Champagnoise Sparkling Cider ($24.95) – made just like Champagne in a brut-style (dry – 0). Two years in bottle and on lees (dead yeast cells) fermented right in the bottle. Yeasty, appley goodness are the flavours you’ll get from this one – and it’s fun and refreshing with persistent little bubble – great for fooling your friends when you pull out your next bottle of bubbly.

Best Summertime Sipper:
Because of the lack of signage pointing to the upstairs tastings I had to do a whirlwind encounter with some of the wineries; and in some cases I even had to pour myself samples and make guesses as to what I was tasting (as the proprietor’s had already left to grab some dinner before the evening session). One of those self pours was a 2006 Aenigma (white - $12.50) from Villa Nova Estate Winery (near Simcoe) – some peach and apple flavours with a bit of sweetness made this ideal patio material, and considering I was on the rooftop patio of the Savoy Bistro I know of what I speak. The long finish only added to the enjoyment. In a later conversation with Phil Ryan, owner and winemaker, I found out the blend was Sauvignon Blanc, Vidal and Riesling mainly sourced for the Vineland area. Though he’s growing quite a bit of his own vinifera including Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir and Cab Franc just to name 4 of the 10 he rambled off to me.

Best Enigma:
It seems only fitting that after a wine called Aenigma that I have a enigma award. That goes to Viewpointe Estates Winery (Harrow, Lake Erie North Shore) who presented “Blattner from Switzerland” made by Jim Warren (of Stoney Ridge fame amongst other), but other than telling people it was Blattner from Switzerland and that there were a few different formulations the pourer could tell us no more. The stuff was tasty enough – but what is it and what John Fancsy (owner and winemaker) is doing with it remains a mystery.

Best Deadly Fruit Wine:
I was trying to spread the awards around but this was too good a wine to ignore. Amongst all the strawberry, raspberry and apple wines we go back to Coffin Ridge for this offering called A Winey Pear made from wild pears grown on a 65 year old wild pear tree they found growing on their property … there was no disguising what it was – pear wine, but very well balanced and tasty. No price on this one either.

Best Wine Not for Drinking:
Downey’s Estate Winery (Brampton) is primarily a fruit winery. Somehow maple has been given honorary fruit status (for wine’s sake) and Downey’s is making quite a good one from it called Maple Gold ($26.95 – 375ml), its maple syrup tasty, but too much and you’re likely to go into diabetic shock or have your teeth fall out of your head right before your very eyes. But have no fear, the folks at Downey’s have thought about that and have about half a dozen ideas about what else you can do with this truly Canadian wine: pour it over Belgian waffles, ice cream, mix it in with sauces, over fruit, etc. I suggested putting it in sparkling wine as a mixer to create a spritzer of sorts. I think that would cut the sweetness (24) and would taste quite fine indeed. Maybe they should get the County Cider Company boys on board with this idea. Or maybe it can be used as dosage for sparkling wines, Peller is doing it with icewine and what could be more Canadian than maple syrup in a sparkler. Maybe I’m onto something here ... hmmm – this might be something for next year’s tasting.

Long live the innovators and inventors on our winery borders … the fringe is where it all begins. Good work and good luck to all of them.

1 comment:

paul troop said...

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