A couple of weekends ago an eclectic group of wine lovers gathered at the Mascot across the road from the old Café Taste for this year's Winter Edition of the Ontario Wine Fair.
Café Taste's owner and self-proclaimed wine geek (the formality that comes with traditional titles like sommelier doesn't jive with his ethos) Jeremy Day has run this event out of his wine and cheese bar for the past six years as a way of bringing Ontario wine country to the city. One of Day's great passions is helping Torontonians discover the quality wine that is being produced less than an hour away and he has a VQA Promoters Award to prove it. He closed Café Taste late in 2011, but continues the business in its new incarnation Café Taste Events, which focuses on tours, tastings, education and his signature event—the Ontario Wine Fair.
This year's winter edition featured 15 Ontario wineries from all three of Ontario's VQA appellations (Lake Erie North Shore, Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward County) and an equal number of cheeses from Ontario artisan cheese-makers (another of Day's great passions). With an invite to attend, I took the opportunity to sample from each of the wineries and found some gems.
It was great to see Pondview pour its top-tier label wines at this tasting. As sales and marketing manger Joseph Barbera explained he wanted to leave a lasting impression on attendees and he couldn't think of a better way than to pour Pondview's best—its Bella Terra line. The 2010 Chardonnay is both barrel-fermented and aged in a combination of French and American oak and is made in an unabashedly bold style. It starts off on the floral side before a wave of tropical pineapple, baked pear, ripe yellow peach, vanilla, spicy oak and butterscotch notes take over. It has a warming finish and a rich roundness leading to a bit of old school feel. Joining the Chardonnay in the line-up are two 2010 Cabernets—a Sauvignon and a Franc—both of which spent 16 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels. The Sauvignon has the classic black currant, blackberry, black plum, vanilla and spicy oak notes. The body is rich and round and feels Californian with some heavy, bold, drying tannins that could use some time in the cellar before this wine is at its best. But for me the standout wine was the Cabernet Franc. It posses a nice balance between wonderfully aromatic black raspberry and black cherry notes and the grape's signature dried-tobacco undertones. Joining those are some dark chocolate, vanilla, oak and licorice notes. It's still a big, rich wine with some formidable tannins, but they're much more approachable and in balance at this stage.
My favourite white of the evening game courtesy of Pondview's fellow Niagara-on-the-Lake winery Palatine Hills and its 2010 Neufeld Vineyard Chardonnay. Reflective of the warm vintage it's a Chardonnay bursting with golden peach, juicy pineapple, papaya and golden apple with some subtle cream and oak notes on the finish. Using a mix of new and older (sixth-fill) oak barrels provides structure, some creaminess and just hint of spice in this wine. The feel and fresh acidity are in nice balance allowing the sun-kissed tropical-stone fruit combination to shine. It's in a beautiful spot right now.
Overall I was most impressed with line-up of the Grange of Prince Edward County. The winery has recently moved to drop its entry level Trumpour's Mill label with the Estate series, which better emphasis the winery's brand and where the grapes come from, replacing it. President and winemaker Caroline Granger poured two of my favourite reds at the event, both from the 2009 vintage. The Cabernet Franc displays a beautiful combination of ripe red raspberries, red currant and a touch of strawberry. Underlaying that is a nice herbal sage-meets-summer-savory note. That juicy fruit was balanced by some zippy acidity and just enough of a tanninic edge to hold up to hearty winter dishes without being overwhelmed. The Gamay is even better. It was aged in 2-4 year old French oak barrels allowing the fruit to rightfully shine, while also giving it some nice structure and a lift in body. Taking a sip is like diving into a bowl of summer fresh berries with strawberry and black raspberry notes. There's also juicy black plum and floral violet notes. Rounding things out is a spicy finish of cinnamon and nutmeg. It's also wonderfully balanced with tannin, acidity and body all working in harmony.
The two four-hour tasting sessions were on the long side, but many attendees stayed late in the session clearly enjoying the leisurely pace, which gave ample opportunity to socialise. You could see attendees regularly engaging winery representatives and fellow attendees to discuss wines and winemaking philosophies. Day has also hosted a summer edition of the Ontario Wine Fair the past few years in June. So for those that enjoyed this winter edition or folks who missed out expect a spring time announcement with details on it in the coming months.
2010 Pondview Bella Terra Chardonnay
2010 Pondview Bella Terra Cabernet Franc
2010 Pondview Bella Terra Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 The Grange of Prince Edward County Estate Cabernet Franc
2009 The Grange of Prince Edward County Select Gamay Noir
Availability: Restaurants across Ontario
The winners of the 2013 Ontario Wine Fair: Winter Edition Peoples' Choice Awards are:
- Best Riesling: Charles Baker 2011 Picone Vineyard Riesling
- Best Chardonnay: Vineland Estates 2011 Unoaked Chardonnay
- Best Pinot Gris: Sue-Ann Staff 2011 Pinot Grigio
- Best Sauvignon Blanc: The Grange of Prince Edward 2011 Fume Blanc
- Best Rose: The Good Earth Food and Winery
- Best Pinot Noir: Rosewood Estates 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve
- Best Cabernet Franc: Pondview Estates 2010 Cabernet Franc
- Best Gamay Noir: Ridge Road 2011 Gamay Noir
- Best Single Varietal: Henry of Pelham 2011 Baco Noir
- Best Red Blend: Palantine Hills 2010 Neufeld Vineyard Meritage
- Best White Blend: Stratus 2008 White
- "Best in Show" Red: Stratus 2007 Red
- "Best in Show" White: Sue-Ann Staff 2011 Pinot Grigio
- "People's Choice": Rosewood Estates 2008 Mead Royale
Café Taste Events
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.