Monday, August 11, 2008

Report from ... Lake Erie North Shore Vintage Tasting - August 10, 2008

This used ot be called the "New" Vintages Festival for the Lake Erie North Shore wineries, and it’s kinda true, this 14 year old event was mostly about “New” wines; but this year there was also a fair share of old favourites kicking about too. The reason for the format change, or so I am told, by two sources (so it must be true), is that a few years back, during the bad winters and new winery emergence/growth, some of the wineries did not have new wines to pour at the festival, so then bent the rules a little to include older stuff – and well it seems the rules were never bent back. But for the most part the majority of the wines were from newer vintages (all except for Viewpointe – who I understand is having trouble getting glassware, ie: bottles; and Alexsander, whose recently bottled wines were still in shock, so they brought some of their old favourites). Otherwise every winery had at least 2 new wines and some, like Colio, had only new stuff.

You’ll notice, if you have a handy dandy calendar with you, that the tasting took place on a Sunday – an odd day for sure, and there was some grumbling about the c
hange of day (usually held on a Saturday), but the event was still a sell out and a real showcase for that up and comer Mastronardi … who put on quite a spread. As Eadie Mastonardi said to me, “That’s just the way we role around here,” before she ducked into a bathroom. Decked out in purple and her usual whiter-than-white welcoming smile Eadie was the perfect host, making sure glasses were full, everyone was enjoying themselves and the food was always available and replenished, if necessary. She weaved her way through the throng with the grace and ease of somebody born to host; and if you have ever been to their Dionysus event, you know that she is well practiced.

The Lake Erie festival is one of the most civilized of the New Vintage tasting
s in Ontario … held at a different winery every year, it allows the host winery to sell their wares to the attending guests. Until the Government of Ontario changes their arcane laws about selling booze at events/tastings this seems the best way for each winery to benefit.

A note of interest … I happened to be around Harold Wagner’s table during one of the “speech moments”, when Eadie Mastronardi and Lyse LeBlanc took to the stage to announce the financial support of the Wine Council of Ontario in funding this event. Harold, not one to hold his thoughts or his feeling
s, has a very vehement reaction to the Wine Council. Being a fruit winery, Wagner’s is not recognized as an Ontario winery and was even banned from advertising in the Wine Council’s Ontario winery map … “They treat me worst than a black man in Alabama in the 60’s” he said … and while an overstatement, he is treated like a second class citizen in the wine world. And althought this is not the arena to get into this issue I will tell you to keep your eyes peeled for an article in an upcoming issue of my newsletter (

It’s now time to see/taste how the wineries are faring down in the Lake Erie North Shore Area … as is customary I try to make some top picks from the event are here they are:

Best New
Red …
Colchester Ridge Estate Winery 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - $24.95
In a few short years, the winery also known as CREW, has become a real player and innovator down in the region. They took home a big Chardonnay prize at the Ontario Wine Awards earlier this year, and I can only see them building on this success. Bernard Gorski, the own
er and winemaker, used American “water bent” barrels, which means the barrels are soaked in water before being bent and toasted, allowing for a deeper toast and possibly, a longer life span. This wine spent 14 months in these barrels and has really developed into something special. The nose is loaded with vanilla, cinnamon, lots of black fruit and sweet, sweet oak. The taste is going to come around slowly over the next couple of years, but currently there is a great toasted vanilla, spiced cherry and red berry flavours here. Keep your eye on this winery for more great wines to come.

Runner Up - Red ...
Colio Estate Winery 2006 CEV Six Barrel Shiraz - $24.95
As the name comes right out and tells you, only 6 barrels of this beaut
y were made. New winemaker, Tim Reilly, got the chance to make the first Shiraz in Colio’s 28-year long history. With long time winemaker Carlo Negri now retired there’s a new sheriff in town and he’s willing to try some new things to put his signature on ColioTown. 22 months in six barrels, of which one-third are new and all are Eastern European oak, this wine exhibits a great white pepper nose, but little else at this time; but in the mouth it’s a completely different story. Nice pepper notes with spice and black fruit, woody and a lingering pepper and spice finish. Nothing beats coming out of the gate with a winner.

Best Value Red …
Pelee Island Winery 2007 Cabernet Franc - $12.95
The new Pelee Island LCBO general list Cabernet Franc sports a new label but keeps the same value it always has. The nose is pretty off putting at this time – it’s only been in bottle for about 3 weeks, so I suspect this is going to come around. Light oak treatment of no more than 6 months makes this wine a pleasure to drink now. Ripe fruit in the mouth with a great cherry tobacco mid-palate and pleasant medium length finish. The new label is a classy burgundy-red on a very complimentary black background, still present, but in a
different colour, is the newt – now golden. The label is now as appealing as the wine.

Best New White …
Sanson Estate Winery 2007 Riesling - $14.95
When Maureen, of Sanson Estate Winery, called me up and said, “Dennis has just made his first Riesling, I hope you get a chance to try it at the Vintage tasting this weekend.” I was surprised. I thought for sure that by now Dennis had made a few Rieslings in his day. But Dennis is a finicky winemaker, he makes what he likes to make, and even if he has success with a variety he’ll ditch it from his repertoire if he isn’t happy with it, which is what happened with his Shiraz. But one thing I have learned about Dennis is he makes good wines, so if he has decided to try his hand at a wine you best take notice. This Rieslin
g has a nice Bosc pear nose, but there’s little else on the smell, this should open up over time. In the mouth you’ll find a heck of a lot more to reel you in: pear, lemon, touch of peach and a fine sweetness on the mid-palate before it ends up dry. I recommend picking up a few bottles this year … but just don’t get too attached to being able to get it all the time.

Runner Up and Best Value - White ...
Erie Shore Vineyard 2007 Vidal - $9.95
Yippee Ki-Yi-Yah Mother … well any movie fan should know the rest of this one, so let’s move on from the cliché to something tangible. This is a great little Vidal – I know n
ot the world’s most respectable grape, and saying that a winery makes the “Best Vidal”, to some is kind of a back handed compliment. But when you can take my mind away from the usual sweet syrupy sticky we call Icewine and get me to enjoy a tasty little table wine, you know you’re doing something right. Harvey Hollingshead, winemaker/owner, has made what he believes is his best Vidal since 2003 … the nose is a peach-apple combo, but in the mouth you’re going to have to delve little deeper, as it becomes all tropical with papaya, pineapple and mango … amazingly sippable, and great for entertaining. And what a great price.

Best … “I-have-no-idea-what-to-do-with-it wine” …
Wagner’s Vidal-Cherry-Raspberry
Harold has “no idea” what to do with this blend of fruit and grape. “I might box it for early consumption and every day enjoyment,” he told me. The fruit comes through with lots of cherry and raspberry flavours, while the Vidal adds a touch of tropical; and while the wine ranks in at about a 3 on the sugar scale, there is no way you would guess it. The acid and sweetness balance off nicely and it’s a pleasant easy-going sipper that I would stick quite happily in the rosé category. “I’m thinking of putting it in 3L boxes and selling it for thirty-bucks.” Well-worth it. Nothing’s wrong with having this everyday drinker for before, during or after dinner – heck make it an afternoon snack and I’d come over..

You made a WHAT??? ...
D’Angelo Estate Winery 2006 Iced Foch - $15.00 / 375ml
You’ll see very few Marechal Foch reviews on my site, the reason is that very few really impress me. But here I am looking at this half-bottle of Foch Ice and wondering what the heck Sal D’Angelo was thinking. But my intrepid curiosity got the best of me and I decided to give it a go. And by George isn’t this one of the nicest dessert wines I have tasted in a while, with a scent to match. Raspberry jam and black cherry greet the nose, while in the mouth it’s very cherry and cranberry; a drier than expected finish makes it seem much less than the 23 it is on the sweetness scale. Maybe a touch thick, but not cloying. And look at that price … makes a great gift, and a rare one at that.

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