A.O.C. D.O.C., D.O.P., D.V.A., V.Q.A. The regulations behind these three-letter guarantees differ but they all essentially come down to the simple concept that place matters when it comes to food and wine. That's at the heart of Somewhereness— a wine tasting event started by a handful of small- to mid-sized Ontario wineries with a focus on producing wines that evoke the special sense of place that can't be duplicated. The tasting allows likeminded producers Cave Spring, Charles Baker, Flat Rock, Hidden Bench, Malivoire, Norman Hardie, Southbrook, Stratus, Tawse and 13th Street to pour some of the special wines in their line-up and talk about them in a more intimate setting than most wine shows.
At last year's Somewhereness we tried to succulently sum-up what makes Ontario wines taste unique. It's very nuanced and hard to pin down, but for the Somewhereness group it essentially comes down to dirt and climate. When the ancient glacier melted it blessed Southern Ontario with a breadth of mineral-rich soils with an affinity for growing grapes. Tying into that is the moderating influence of Lake Ontario and the cool climate it provides. This combination of the soil and climate is what comes together and makes Ontario wine taste distinctive in a world of great wine.
The concept of a sense of place isn't just limited to the world of wine. It's a belief behind some of the world's most sought after foods like Bélon Flats, Alba white truffles or Rochefort blue cheese. Along those lines Somewhereness invited local artisan cheese producers: Best BAA Dairy, Glengarry, Monforte, and Upper Canada to sample some of their best alongside the wines.
Somewhereness features a consumer tasting event every couple of years and did so last year. This year's edition focused on trade and media, but that doesn't mean consumers won't get a chance to taste these wines. Many are or will soon be available at the wineries and in some cases LCBO's Vintages. Below are some of our favourite picks at the tasting and little insight about what made them stand out.
Michael Di Caro
13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir 2010
$29.95 Available at the winery
Whether it's Prince Edward County, Niagara's Escarpment or Niagara-on-the-Lake appellations Gamay Noir is a star grape each vintage no matter what mother nature brings. Having a grape which performs consistently like that is a great help when you're trying to establish that sense of place in a relatively young wine region like Southern Ontario. 13th Street is one of the wineries that has long believed in Niagara Gamay Noir. The vines of the Sandstone Vineyard that produced this wine are nearing their 30th birthday and are amongst the oldest in the region. Layered with aromas of cherry, violets, strawberry and cassis, this Gamay draws you into the glass. Sitting under that lush red and black fruit is a savoury undercurrent of anise, cedar and black olive that leads gracefully to a peppery cherry and strawberry finish. Gentle punch downs, time on the lees and a mix of mostly older and new French barrels add to the wine's texture and a medium plus tannin structure. Even in the warm 2010 vintage winemaker Jean Pierre Colas and his vineyard team managed to retain that signature Niagara acidity that keeps things lively.
Southbrook Whimsy! “Who are you Calling Petit?” Petit Verdot 2010
$34.95 Available at the winery
Petit Verdot along with Malbec and Carménère are the three other Bordeaux grapes that fell out of favour in France and were essentially replaced with more of the consistent-ripening and easier to grow Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Even when these grapes were more widely used there, it was often in smaller quantities to add tannin, colour and round out flavours in the blend. Over the past couple of decades Malbec and Carménère have found great success in Argentina and Chile, respectively. So now these so-called blending grapes are beginning to get another look by producers looking for something a little different.
In the flatter sunshine-blessed Niagara sub-appellations of Four Mile Creek and neighbouring Niagara Lakeshore some wineries have begun to experiment with single varietal Petit Verdots. Given that it often ripens after Cabernet, a grape Ontario can struggle with in cooler years, it's a bit of gamble. But if the warmer weather of recent years continues it may pay off for those who dared to think a little differently.
Organic and Biodynamic certified Southbrook, which specialises in Cabernet-based blends and Chardonnay, planted less than an acre of Petit Verdot in 2007 and produced its first wine from those vines in the warm 2010 vintage. Unlike its cheeky name this very intriguing red gently entices you to take a sip with aromas of lilacs and black fruit. On the palate it's not quite so coy, surprising with deep concentrated flavours of ripe black currant, black raspberry and plum that carry through to the finish with a hint of leather. With medium plus tannins, acidity to match and the characteristic fuller-body fuzziness, this wine has all the ingredients to reward those patient enough to hide it in the cellar for a few years. With a total of 48 cases made, it will be going out to wine club members and licensees first. It will likely never make it to the shelves of the retail shop so if you're interested act fast.
Cave Spring Dolomite Pinot Noir 2009
$21.95 Available at the winery
We've documented the local love affair with Pinot Noir, the alluring enfant terrible of the vineyard. Although it's a cool climate grape and can produce sublime results in the right conditions, its sensitivity means it won't be that consistent star performer every year. But it is a grape that transparently reflects its sense of place and the vintage very well, which is an idea at the core of Somewhereness. Luckily 2009 was a great year for growing local Pinot Noir and Cave Springs has many years of experience growing and making it. This essentially all-Bench Pinot has the classic Niagara flavours and aromas of cranberry and sour cherry. With a bit of time in the glass, nuances of rose petals, berries and cinnamon begin to reveal themselves and support that cranberry and cherry core which last through to the finish. Bright acidity, and supple, but strong tannins provide great tension and a strong spine for this wine to evolve and develop.
Glengarry Fine Cheese Celtic Blue
Available direct or locally at specialty cheese mongers like Cheese Boutique.
South Glengarry township is a place you've probably passed by more than a few times without notice on a Montreal road trip. Sitting on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River near the Quebec-Ontario border this beautiful part of Eastern Ontario has been quietly producing some of the province's best cheese at Glengarry Fine Cheese. Their cheese starts at the Peters' family farm where the hay and grass that feeds the Holstein herd is grown. The fresh milk is then taken across the road to the cheese factory where Margaret Peter-Morris and her team turn it into a variety of exceptional cheeses. One of those is Celtic Blue, a not too pungent blue that came via happy accident. Peter-Morris was trying to make a Gouda-style cheese for the first time in 1994 when it morphed into a blue. The cheese has a creamy, slightly nutty and buttery flavour with nice alfa and hay notes courtesy of the Holstein milk. Those flavours are balanced by a moderate and unmistakable blue tang and a slight earthy bitterness from its washed rind.
Stratus Tollgate White 2008
Price: $26 at the winery, not at the LCBO but featured widely on wine lists.
There are a number of very good reasons why your first scan of a wine list should be for this label from Stratus, arguably Niagara’s king of blending. Here are two. The Tollgate White is a fairly unusual blend that balances the toasted, smoky elements of Chardonnay with the vibrant tropical fruit of Sauvignon Blanc. With a licensee price (what the restaurant pays per bottle) of $16.67 you should expect to see it on the list at a manageable price.
Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2010
Price: $19.95 at the LCBO (578625)
Flat Rock grows the grapes for their mid-range Riesling on the small plot that is the furthest south, and highest elevation point in their vineyard. This translates in the glass into a dry Riesling with moderate minerality and subtle stone fruit flavours balanced by smooth lemon acidity and carried to an impressive length. At $20 it fits nicely into the special-occasion-but-drink-now category.
Tawse Growers Blend Cabernet Franc 2009
Price: $26.95 at the LCBO (284570)
In the continuing debate of which grape varieties can (or should) be grown in Ontario, Cab Franc follows Pinot Noir onto the “yes” side of just about everyone’s list. Tawse’s winemaker, Paul Pender, has strong opinions in this debate and I’m glad he joins the yeses to make this typical example of a Niagara Cab Franc. The wine’s nose and palate are tied together by dark cherry and mineral notes. Even with a bit of cellaring it will retain the tannins to make it an ideal food wine.
Upper Canada Cheese Company's Comfort Cream
Available direct or locally at specialty cheese mongers like Cheese Boutique.
All of the milk produced by the Comfort family’s Guernsey herd in Jordan, ON goes to make Upper Canada Cheese. To honour this connection, Upper Canada named their camembert-style cheese Comfort Cream. This complexly flavoured, buttery cheese goes equally well served at room temperature with crusty bread as it does as a hot, baked appetiser.
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.