Since opening in the Spring of 2010, Hinterland Wine Co. has quickly become one of Ontario's most exciting wineries and a top reason to visit Prince Edward County. Part of that is the warm hospitality owners Vicki Samaras and Jonas Newman provide guests to the repurposed diary barn which houses their winery in Hillier.
The other half is that sparkling is a perfect wine style for the county. As much as the mineral-rich, chalky soils of the Champagne region get credit for producing its signature premium sparkling wine, it is likely the local climate that is most responsible for the world's most renown style of bubbly. A very cool climate like Champagne, where the grapes can struggle to ripen, means they develop complex flavours while still retaining low-sugar and that laser-focused high acidity that makes for a superlative sparkler. Similarly, Prince Edward County is throughly cool climate, this northernmost VQA appellation is Ontario's coolest by far and has the shortest growing season so many growers can struggle with later harvest varieties in cooler vintages. But the other side of that is the county is also blessed with limestone-based, mineral-rich soil and conditions that can produce slow ripening and naturally high-acid, low-sugar Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (the two main grapes of Champagne). In other words if there was ever a region meant to consistently produce premium traditional method sparkling in Ontario, Prince Edward County is it. Hinterland is the first winery to embrace the county's seemingly natural affinity to sparkling production and is still its and Ontario's only winery solely dedicated to producing bubbly.
Recently Hinterland held a small tasting to introduce the release of the Late Disgorge editions of its flagship Les Etoiles and Rosé traditional method sparklers from its inaugural 2007 vintage. In order to gain its complexity, sparkling wine is bottle aged on its lees (spent yeast cells) while undergoes its bubble producing secondary fermentation. As long as the grapes are of good quality, the longer the wine spends on its lees, the more interesting and complex the flavour of the finished sparkler tends to be. But this only works up to a point because a wine left to age a very long time can begin to lose some of the crisp, freshness we expect and highly prize in sparkling. Hinterland keeps its Les Etoiles and Rosé on the lees for about three years, the same minimum requirement for vintage dated Champagne. However being a new winery in a new region, it has held back about 10 percent of those wines each year for extended aging to see how it develops. Samaras and Newman have tasted the batch from 2007 and found they quite like how it's tasting and the added complexity it gained. Luckily for the public they've decided to share that and let you judge for yourself as they released it for sale on a first come, first serve basis if you contact them at the winery.
The late disgorge edition of the 2007 Les Etoiles (stars in French), has evolved nicely. The core of the flavours and aromas is now satisfyingly rich and yeasty, reminiscent of a long-fermented sourdough. That's supported by pleasantly tart lemon and apple fruit, a touch of roasted hazelnut and a strong minerally finish that keeps it tasting lively and fresh. The 2007 late disgorge Rosé might be even more impressive. The gorgeous faded amaranth pink colour, similar to what you might find in a piece of coral, draws you into the glass. The seductive wild strawberry core is still there, although now it has a more mature dried tone to it. That's supported by dusty rose petal, blood orange citrus and a yeasty undertone that's still strong, but less pronounced than Les Etoiles. It finishes with that same refreshing minerally note. Both wines possess a gentler feel, with the mousse (bubbles) being less lively than they are in younger vintages of the same wines. The result is quite impressive considering the vines that produced wines were only three-years-old at the time.
In the current line-up, the other wine that impresses and should be the makings of a great late disgorge, is the 2009 Les Etoiles. That year was a very cool and wet vintage across Ontario. It made for a slow growing season that produced Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that had fully developed flavours and aromas, while still maintaing razor-sharp acidity and low-sugar. In short the conditions where about as perfect as it gets for traditional method sparkling wine and it shows in this 40 percent Pinot Noir, 60 percent Chardonnay blend. This is a sparkler that wine lovers would lovingly describe as having tension. There's a beautiful focus provided by a core of a laser-like acidity, which will easily cut through the richest of foods. But what's most impressive is it still has the ballerina-like grace not to overpower more delicate pairings. There's an elegance to the flavours and aromas with fragrant Meyer lemon zest, crisp Granny Smith apple and floral Anjou pear showing upfront. A gorgeous nutty and yeasty brioche undercurrent flows through it all, before it finishes on a chalky mineral note that lingers and whispers enjoy me with the freshest and coldest water East coast oysters you can find. The mousse is fine and has a feisty persistence that leaves your palate feeling wonderfully refreshed after each sip. It tastes brilliant now, so I can only imagine what the extened aging on the lees might contribute in the future.
Hinterland also recently introduced neck tags for its wines writtten in the style of phramcuetical labels. It's a cheeky throwback to Samaras past life in the pharamcuetical business and an innovative way to display all the details you'd want to know about the wine.
Five years in the making Hinterland's Late Disgorge 2007 Les Etoiles and Rosé hint at the promise of Prince Edward County as Ontario's premier sparkling wine region and prove the old axiom good things come to those who wait. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if what Samaras and Newman are producing inspires a few other sparkling-focused producers to set-up shop in the county soon. But for now we can continue to enjoy what these pioneers are producing and look forward to a bright future for local sparkling wine.
2007 Hinterland Les Etoiles Late Disgorge
Availability: Extremely limited at winery. Inquire via phone or email.
2007 Hinterland Rosé Late Disgorge
Availability: Extremely limited at winery. Inquire via phone or email.
2009 Hinterland Les Etoiles
Written by Mike Di Caro
Michael Di Caro covers all things vinous at Spotlight. His lover affair with Ontario wine began over a decade ago and he’s been in front of tasting bars trying to sweet talk staff into pouring a taste of a library wine or the latest unreleased bottle ever since. Since good wine can’t be made without great grapes, you can also catch him amongst the vines trying to persuade the winemaker into revealing his/her next big thing for you on Spotlight. His epicurean tendencies don’t just stop in the glass either. During the rest of his free time you can find him searching for the perfect bowl of Dan Dan noodles, exploring the city’s best tasting menus or baking cookies and mucking about in the kitchen.