The Outer Limits of Ontario Wine tasting took place on Monday evening at the Savoy Bistro & Lounge in downtown Toronto, with a large number of Ontarian country wineries represented. The main focus was on wines made from varieties and/or grown in locations that are currently not recognized under the VQA (Vintners' Quality Alliance) system. There were some truly fabulous wines poured at this event - many fruit wines, but also a great many grape wines - and several very exciting wines made with entirely new hybrid varieties which I was fortunate to sample and take notes on.
First of all, I greatly applaud the idea behind this tasting: Ontarians need to learn more about the home-grown wine scene, its dynamism and especially its promising future. There are some talented winemakers out there who are truly playing a key part in the creation of a wine culture rooted in our province. Here are my notes on what I feel are several noteworthy wines at the evening's tasting.
2006 Georgian Hills Vineyards Seyval Blanc
This was easily my top white wine of the evening - and what an amazing wine it is. The fruit is 100% Seyval Blanc grown near Thornbury, Ontario, virtually adjacent to Georgian Bay (more specifically, Nottawasaga Bay). Wineries are scant in this part of Ontario, but a few new ones are on the verge of opening and I sense a strong future for wine in this part of the province. I was not sure what to expect when winemaker Lindsay Puddicombe poured me a sample, but I was immediately struck by its clarity and aromatic power. At 13.5% alc., the wine is a brilliant light straw colour; big fruity aromas of lemon, papaya, minerals and pineapple jump out of the glass. On the palate it is intensely focused, crisp and balanced with a most admirable minerality and structure. This is without a doubt the best Seyval Blanc I have ever tasted from Ontario - it is far better than any I've had from Niagara Peninsula, which suggests that something in the climate further up north and possibly very talented hands (most likely!) had to do with its success.
2006 Coffin Ridge "Back From The Dead Red"
Nearby, Coffin Ridge in Meaford, Ontario, has produced an inaugural blend consisting of Sabrevois, Dechaunac, Foch, Leon Millot and Chambourcin. Inky ruby-purple in colour, the nose of the wine is light and spicy yet complex with slight hints of bacon in the background, making for an appetizing aromatic profile. On the palate, the flavours follow through leading to a generally light-bodied yet clean and moderately tannic wine. A noteworthy and unique blend of hybrids grown in an area that doesn't see much viticulture but that could (and should) see more activity.
Black Prince Winery non-vintage First Crush Vidal
As the winery's website states, this wine is made "from a blend of Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore fruit from 2 vintages". It is a lovely, crisp, fruity, well-structured and refreshing white wine showing aromas of apricot, peach and pineapple - very typical Vidal. The winery has also produced a 2006 vintage Vidal, but I didn't see this particular wine at the tasting.
Moving from the Georgian Bay area to Prince Edward County (eastern Lake Ontario area), we now move southwest - this time to Viewpointe Estate Winery, located on the north shore of Lake Erie in Essex County. I feel myself very fortunate to have stopped at this exhibit, since the experimental wines available for tasting were true eye-openers and, more than this, a source of immense and unforeseen inspiration for the future of hybrid reds in general. The grape varieties used to make the wines are completely new hybrids with Cabernet Sauvignon parentage created by Valentin Blattner, and are colloquially referred to as the "Blattner hybrids" - for now, the hybrids bear numbers rather than names. Notes follow on each of the samples.
2005 Viewpointe Estate Winery Blattner HG01
Inky purple, funky and tannic! What immense hybrid colour and feral aromas - yet at the same time, a fully vinifera-like mid-palate with a strong but balanced tannic structure and great balance of acidity, tannin and extract. Quite reminiscent of Norton/Cynthiana aromatically.
2005 Viewpointe Estate Winery Blattner HG03
Inky! Smoky, complex, meaty nose. Excellent balance, much like HG01; smoky and wild flavours that remind me of the very fine 1999 Blumenhof Cynthiana (Vitis aestivalis native American red wine) from Dutzow, Missouri, that I tasted some years ago. Fine, balanced (acidity and tannin) structure. Exemplary and promising - I really enjoyed it.
2005 Viewpointe Estate Winery Blattner HG04
This wine was more lifted and fruity on the nose than either the HG01 or the HG03, but it still had the same delightful wildness about it. It seemed more acidic and less tannic than the other two, however.
There was also a blend of all these Blattner varieties, and while I enjoyed it as well, I found myself preferring the individual wines made from hybrids HG01 and HG03. These fascinating grapes truly need to get better known; I can only imagine what they could do for our wine scene in Ontario, especially since they offer what so many winemakers have long searched for: grapes that produce red wine with structure and depth in our short seasons and that are climatically suitable given our winters. Based on what I tasted, I think that the Blattner varieties could hold a significant key in these areas.
Kawartha Country Winery 2006 Buckhorn Premier Vintage
This wine, a blend of Sabrevois and Frontenac (two extreme-cold-hardy hybrids more frequently seen in Minnesota and Quebec) was also featured at Fiesta Buckhorn on July 22nd (the winery is located near Buckhorn) and I tried it there for the first time. Light-to-medium ruby in colour, it is 12% alc./vol. and has a fruity light nose of cherries and apples - though it is of course made completely from grapes. Light-to-medium bodied with a slight fruity sweetness on the mid-palate and some tannic structure as well. I thought the wine was significant in that it was produced entirely from locally grown grapes and therefore represents a truly local wine in a region that historically has been deemed unsuitable for viticulture. Obviously, realities are changing and happily, courageous and forward-thinking winemakers are rendering that negative view obsolete. I applaud them for it.
There were many more wines at the Outer Limits tasting, but I only took notes on the ones that struck me either for their varietal makeup or for their novel locations within the province - and in some cases, both. I am truly glad to have been at the event, and especially to have tried the Blattner hybrids.