Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Report from ... Cuvee Weekend 2009 - February 27 to March 1, 2009

The Ontario wine Oscars were announced Friday night and its easy to encapsulate them by saying that the big winner was Creekside, taking home four awards; while both Tawse and Hillebrand walked away with two each. This year they added a new wrinkle to the format of the presentation, by announcing the silver and bronze medal finishers in some categories; this elicited a few groans from the audience as favorites just missed the mark. There were also some ties along the way, like the inevitable Riesling tie (there's just so much made in Ontario that this is bound to happen) between Tawse 2007 Sketches of Niagara and Legends 2003 Reserve (thinking about it I think this is a greater coup for Legends, putting in an the aged wine up against all those fresh and fruity ones took guts - good for them). Peninsula Ridge, tied with themselves for best Sauvignon Blanc (only thing worse than that would be to beat yourself); and the best Limited Edition White award was shared between Cattail (2007 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay) and Creekside (2007 Reserve Viognier). I seem to have a good track record for picking winners, going 9 or 16 with my choices from the Cuvee Media Pre-Tasting. Considering there were multiple winners and not all the winning wines were up for tasting that day, I think that’s pretty good score ... if you wish to check up on me then just click on through to my picks, I've updated the posting.

Saturday: I find myself at the Experts Tasting where I am sat between Debi Pratt (Inniskillin) and Darryl Brooker (Hillebrand, and winner of the Tony Aspler Cuvee Award of Excellence). This year's tasting focused on Sparkling Wine. The event kicked off at 10:00 AM and finished (or at least I left) a little after 2:00 PM. The "Experts Tasting" is comprised of media-types, restauranteurs and sommeliers from out of town (most of whom attended the festivities the night before). We all sit down to taste a varietal or style that flourishes in Ontario, and hear some experts talk on the subject (winemakers). Having recently written an article about Ontario Sparkling for Tidings Magazine I wholeheartedly concurred with the selection of topic; but I questioned before, and still do now, (as I am writing this piece) the timing of such a tasting. Let me show you how my mind works on this subject. You have a whole bunch of media and restauranteurs congregating in Niagara during a time when an event called Cuvee-en-Route is talking place, this is where 50+ wineries are not only pouring Cuvee winners, but past winners, older vintages and newer wines ... would you not want these people to experience those wines and the wineries that make them instead of cooping us up in a room for 4+hours? I am not questioning Brock and CCOVI’s (Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute) commitment to Ontario wines, they are one of their best promoters, but does this seem like the logical time to do this tasting? Discuss amongst yourselves and get back to me on this issue.

As for the wines we tried, we had four flights of five wines each - most from Ontario with a few "ringers" thrown in, including a Cremant d’Alsace and a Champagne. Seems that our stuff (from Ontario) fared as well or better; I didn't pick any outside wine as a favourite. Here were my picks for best of each flight – the ones that counted anyway (three in total – the fourth was an experimental tasting of Henry of Pelham wines led by winemaker Ron Giesbrecht):

Flight 1 (winner): Vineland 2007 Brut ($28.00) - pleasant and fruity with a touch of lemon and hint of sweetness.
Flight 2 (winner): Cave Spring Cellars 2006 Chenin Blanc Extra Brut ($24.95) - a buttered toast nose with bracing/racy acidity and a nice apple-lemonade quality.
Flight 3 (winner): Stoney Ridge 2005 Brut ($18.95) - bread crust nose, fresh fruity palate with apple crispness and a toasty finish.

Sunday: Finally I got a chance to hit the winery trail, but instead of giving you a rundown of who did what I’ll let you know that I have fodder for upcoming newsletters, with wine reviews from such wineries as Rosewood Estates, 30 Bench Winemakers, Alvento, Vineland, Featherstone, Twenty-Twenty-Seven and Creekside - amongst others, so if you are not a newsletter subscriber … what are you waiting for?

I will throw a few wine notes your way: A trip to Hillebrand and a taste of the now $30.00 2005 Trius Red really proved to me what a great vintage 2005 was and what a dang fine winemaker Daryl Brooker is. This wine showed no age it all, granted it has only been three years, but still … Check out the Taste It Again blog for my 2005 Trius Red review. Finally, I stopped by Angels Gate, where a flight of three old vines Chardonnays was on the menu (2003, 2005 and 2006). The ’03 seemed to be losing it with smells of beets and cinnamon; the ’06 was tight, lacking both fruit and acidity, I have a feeling this one is what some critics call "in a dumb phase" - try again in six months with hopefully better results. The ‘05 was spectacular, fresh and lively, good fruit character, buttery, minerally and alive with great acidity.

Now, enough talking about wine, I need a glass of one …

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