Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Report from ... Tawse New Releases Dinner - April 1, 2008

On more than one occasion I have been approached at an event and sooner or later the topic turns to Ontario Wineries that I like (who is worth visiting, who’s making the best wine, etc.), those who have read my articles inevitably state, “… but you don’t like Tawse very much do you.” It’s time I clarify my position about Tawse Winery – it is not that I dislike Tawse, in fact I think the owner Moray Tawse is a genuinely affable and gentle gentleman. What I dislike is paying $50 for a bottle of wine, I don’t like the fact that an upstart is asking $40+ for a Chardonnay while some the old guards who paved the way for this upstart to open in the first place, asks $20 (my feeling is you have to build a reputation before you ask for the big dollars), and, on one specific occasion, I don’t like being told I have to buy x-number of bottles of a particular wine. That all said I have never denied Tawse Winery their due when it comes to the taste of their wines – case on point, my glowing review of their 2005 Echos Bistro Red was made quite public in (the LCBO’s) Vintages magazine when the wine was released. I’ve also written highly about their 06 Echos Red, 06 Echos White, 04 Riesling and 06 Chardonnay Musque (even though I wasn’t allowed to buy “just a few bottles”). But I still get, “You don’t like Tawse.”

Well a new day has dawned at Tawse Winery and it shows to me they are going in the right direction; sure you still have wines that range in price from between $20 to $50, but you also have wines below $20 and vintage specific pricing that will fluctuate year-to-year based on the quality of the vintage. I found this out at a dinner hosted by owner, Moray Tawse, and his winemaker, Paul Pender. When I received my invitation to the dinner from winery manager Brad Gowland, and noticed it was being held on April 1st (April Fool’s day of course) I thought it was a joke for all the “Tawse-bashing” I am perceived to do – but as it turns out it was real and was being held at Cru Restaurant in Etobicoke (one of Moray’s favourites). Now I’m not much of a foodie, a conclusion you probably wouldn’t make if you saw my waistline – so for me to tell you about the artic char, yellow fin tuna, lobster tail, duck breast, venison loin and crème brulee, I’m sure I couldn’t do them justice (though they were all good) – but we also tried 6 new Tawse wines set for release between now and June 7, and let me tell you, they are making some excellent hooch down there; some you’ll pay quite dearly for, while others are quite reasonable. We tried 2 Rieslings, a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay Icewine, all were very appealing in their own right. By the end I had three clear cut favourites this night.

But before I go into those, let me tell you about this year’s Pinot Noir. The 2006 Pinot Noir ($32) impressed me because this price had been lowered from last year due to the wet harvest and so-so year – it’s an excellent wine that could very well fetch much more at retail, but this was a decision Moray and his staff made based on the vintage. I applaud that kind of thinking and action. Only the one Pinot was made this year and there is plenty of it – 880 cases.

My Three Favs …

Of the two Rieslings, the eighteen-dollar 2007 Sketches of Niagara is a real beauty. “Sketches” replaces the Echos line, sort of … Echos will go back to being a restaurant exclusive (it’s original raison d’etre), while “Sketches” will give the under $20 crowd a wine of good quality at a more consumer friendly price range. It has taken Tawse a few years to learn that if you can get us with your wines in the lower part of the register, when it’s time for something special we’ll trust you with our high priced purchases. The other Riesling, the $30 Carly’s Block (while good in its own right) is a more mineral driven wine while the “Sketches” is all fruit and acidity, the perfect summer wine … and a great value – lovely.

My second favourite wine of the night was the 2005 Robyn’s Block Chardonnay, this is the first wine that French consultant Pascal Marchand had a hand in making, and it too is an absolute beauty - $48 is a little out of my price range, but if you’ve got the dough, and love Chardonnay this quite possibly is your ticket to Burgundy (so to speak).

My love of Cabernet Franc is no secret and the 2006 Vintners Reserve Cabernet Franc ($38) convinces me even more why I love this grape and why I believe it is Ontario’s to lay claim to.

So, just so we’re clear, and to waylay all those criticisms I get … I like Tawse, I like Moray, Paul, Brad and Brian (assistant winemaker) – they’re all great guys – I just wish their prices were more in my wheelhouse so I could have their wonderful wines on my shelf.

If you’re interested in tasting all of these wines yourself I suggest picking up the phone or sending an email and getting yourself an invite to the 2nd Annual Tawse Open House and Tour (Saturday June 7, 2008), where I have been promised that single bottle sales will be the norm … but get there early just in case.

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