Ontario Wines Knock Us Out (Part One)

With apologies to the regular PR reader, I must take a moment and talk about a terrific side benefit of our trip north of the border for visiting and the IABC Conference. Wine.

The Esteemed Spouse and I are wine fans. We’re not wealthy enough to be Oenophiles, nor indiscriminate enough to be winos.

We caught the bug in France a few years ago when traveling with family — a break-neck 24 hours in Beaune ruined our palates, sentencing us to forever eschew the bargain aisles. My wallet is still screaming.

Toronto Skyline (by Sean)

From Lake Ontario aboard a ferry

The same family member who took us to Burgundy accompanied us to Toronto,

where we took a break from that fabulous city to drive two hours east, to Prince Edward County (PEC), the newest Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA) area in Canada (or at least Ontario).  We also struck out on our own to Niagara-on-the-Lake (and its more mature wine area) to finish the trip.

Prince Edward County sticks out into Lake Ontario from its northern shore, stabilizing and moderating (to some degree) the climate, though the harshness of Ontario winter is still evident from the height of road signs. This is snow country, and winter temps are, well, colder than the usual big wine-producing areas of the world. Canada’s Okanagan Valley, in the country’s west, is producing big beefy reds alongside whites of growing international renown. The weather there runs the gamut from the chill of narrow mountain valleys to the broiling heat of summer desert.  A tiny bit of land sticking into a Great Lake is a bit different.

Sandbanks Restaurant, Wellington

Off the deck at a local lunch place

PEC began (as have so many emerging wine regions) with whites suitable to cooler climates — sweeter, lighter and less complex than reds. The four PEC wineries we visited offered not only these 10-year standbys, but some marvelous full-bodied, dry whites, but also reds worth discussing (and drinking!)

Here’s a rundown:

By Chadsey’s Cairns is charming. A vintage barn welcomes music and performance, whilst a rustic outbuilding serves as tasting room. Chadsey’s was our first stop, and we did have to pace ourselves. Their Riesling (often not my favorite for being too sweet) was complex, fruity and quite delightful, not over-sweet at all. It featured a nose of tropical fruit and florals accented with orange blossom, and finishing with a citrus snap that resolved into green apple and a hint of almond.  The Chardonnay opened with buttery oak (but not like chewing on a stick) and fresh, bright fruit, and soft hints of nuts. Quite lovely and even delicious out of the bottle later that weekend. The two reds were less impressive (though certainly drinkable), a bit astringent and uncomplicated; it was a hot day (well, for Ontario) and a bit more chill on the reds might have helped.

Sandbanks features a modern look and feel — we’d tried their Vidal at a local restaurant to start our day — with a great variety of wines available. We tried a Vidal/Riesling blend (Dunes), Rose, and two reds.  The Foch Reserve was a huge, chewy, big wine redolent of leather and dark fruits. In all of PEC, the Foch was the monster red – lush, exceptional mouthfeel, quite reminiscent of Cabernets we’d tried in the Yakima Valley of Washington State. The Foch was the first big shock of the day – the Baco Noir was the second. The Baco backed off the giant party in a glass that was the Foch (which needs some time to mellow out, truly), and settled into a Merlot-like trance, cassis, green pepper, earthy plum, and just enough tannic nibble to pine for a whacking great steak to pair it with. Yeehaw!

Norman Hardie has insulated a Quonset Hut for a tasting room, but one certainly takes the curly-haired, gracious winemaker seriously as soon as the wine hits the glass. Hardie’s made a Chardy (the Sans Barrique) of wonderful complexity, all fruit, no oak (just how I like it) with structure and levels of flavor I’ve seldom had in any white wine. Second tastes revealed florals and soft passionfruit, a hint of mango and a brilliant finish of apple and nuts. Sigh.  But the day’s third shock was yet to come.

I’m not a great lover of Pinot Noir. I find it thin, bitter and dull (cue family-related joke). I’ve tasted Oregon (great) and California (meh), and frequently am disappointed in restaurants, where the price-joy ratio is disturbingly unbalanced. Norman Hardie’s Pinot Noir just knocked me out. Peppery, even chocolaty, but with the familiar lighter body. Snappy tannins that hold promise for the future, supple berries and “delish” aroma that pays the bill today. Wonderful. We even ordered it at Bistro East and Main,

East and Main, Wellington, ON

Great meal, great wine, great day!

a Wellington restaurant that Norman recommended (Thank you, Chef Lili Sullivan!). He even came in for a beer (and signed one of our bottles).

He signed it!

We liked it so much, we paid restaurant price!

By the time we got to Huff Estates, which features an inn on property and an art gallery, my palate was blown, but I summoned up enough chi to taste their delicious Chardonnay — and I was glad I did.  Unfortunately, I’ve lost my tasting notes from there — but really, we didn’t have a bad glass of wine in four stops, and we liked the Huff Chard enough to buy some. The facility is lovely, the people charming and the wine sublime. A metaphor for the whole experience!

If you’re near Toronto (or Ottawa), go to PEC.

Next post: Niagara Peninsula, and the no-kidding, world-class, omigosh…


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2 Responses to “Ontario Wines Knock Us Out (Part One)”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sean Williams, Sean Williams. Sean Williams said: Attn @jgombita @SuzieLin @PECWinesand other wine lovers – part one of our WineVoyage in Ontario, Canada. http://bit.ly/9STWx3 […]

  2. Stephanie says:

    If you’re up Niagara way, do *not* miss Inniskillen…!