Earlier this month, the Somewhereness group continued its ongoing goal to help define Ontario's uniqueness through the wine glass with a tasting at the MaRS building.
In a few short years, the event's philosophy, focus and line-up have helped it become one of the premier Ontario wine tastings. The main reason is that Somewhereness sets out to answer the technically simple, but complex question of what does it mean when a wine is from Ontario. On the surface it seems simple, grapes grown, harvested and vinified n Ontario equals Ontario wine. But does that translate into something distinct and compelling in glass, and if so what is it? So with a moniker inspired by a Matt Kramer wine column, a group of six small and mid-sized Ontario wineries came together with the idea of trying to answer that question by exploring their Somewhereness—a philosophy with a core belief that quality-focused wines have a signature sense of place.
Ironically, for a concept tied to explaining a specific place, Somewhereness is hard to pin down. But even though a definition is elusive, doesn't mean it isn't important. In fact the Somewhereness concept elicits passion like few other things in the world of gastronomy. If you always order Fanny Bay oysters when they're on the menu because they're your favourite; if you insist your cup of coffee tastes better when it's made from Jamaican Blue Mountain beans; or if you always reach for a can of San Marzano tomatoes to make your sauce, then you understand the concept behind Somewhereness and why it makes all the difference.
In the case of Ontario wine, their Somewhereness is broadly driven by a combination of: mineral-rich glacial soil, the moderating effect Lake Ontario has on creating a Goldilocks not-too-hot-not-too cold cool climate and Southern Ontario's unique and beautiful mix of rain, sunshine and wind. It all adds-up to wines that tend to possess a beautiful finesse, quiet strength and a wonderful cool climate brightness/freshness that thrives at the dinner table. What makes it even more exciting is amongst the wineries, even neighbouring vineyards growing the same grapes, the different combinations of all the above produce something unique in the glass, while still reflecting Ontario's overall Somewhereness.
The 2013 edition of Somewhereness expanded to 12 wineries )adding both Bachelder Wines and Hinterland Wine Company to last year's line-up) making it the largest to date. But even with the expanded roster, this year's Somewhereness felt like the most focused one to date. Winemakers and winery representatives were on hand pouring a carefully curated selection of what they consistently do best—single vineyard wines and signature varieties were de rigueur. That was a very good thing because plenty of conversations would begin with attendees remaking that a wine was outstanding and then following-up with a question about the vineyard. So with that in mind we decided to focus our coverage of Somewhereness 2013 and talk to some of the winemakers about their philosophy, the distinctness some of winery's single vineyards show in the glass and naturally what they were pouring. You can see that in the video below and read about them and some of our favourite picks from the tasting.
Flat Rock Cellars
2012 Unplugged Chardonnay
Since it opened, Flat Rock Cellars has focused on three core grapes: Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. The focus stems from President Ed Madronich who passionately evangelises that trio produces some of the most compelling and distinct wine in the Twenty Mile Bench where Flat Rock is located. Winemaker Jay Johnston, is equally passionate about the Twenty Mile Bench expression of those grapes and it shows in this unoaked Chardonnay from the warm 2012 vintage. For those who like the fruit in their whites unadulterated, this is a Chardonnay for you. Crisp Anjou pear, juicy tree-ripened white peach, sun-warmed golden apple and heady floral orange blossom all come together to provide a seductive, but not over-the-top combination. But what really makes this one of the most compelling unoaked Chardonnays I've tried this year, is its texture. Where most unoaked Chardonnay tends fall short is texturally, never quite managing to satisfy in the way that a good barrel-fermented Chardonnay can. This one is bright, lithe and lively while still providing a touch of that richly-layered tension and texture that make a classic barrel-fermented Chardonnay the ultimate white. It's a little warm on the finish, but it's still in balance with the fleshy texture of the mid-palate playing nicely against the finishing note of minerality and fresh bench acidity.
2011 County Pinot Noir
Price: $ 35.00
Availability: LCBO Vintages 125310 & Winery
If there's one winemaker who knows the nuances and character of Ontario's Somewhereness, it's the gregarious Norman Hardie. He has nearly a decade of experience making wine from vineyards in both Niagara and Prince Edward County—sometimes blending the two in a single cuvée. In his experience, the heavier clay soils in his Niagara vineyards produce bolder, richer wines with more depth and texture. In contrast, the lighter limestone-rich soils of his Prince Edward County vineyard in Hillier tend to produce more delicate wines possessing more finesse and a graceful depth. The Norman Hardie wine that really stood out at the tasting was the 2011 County Pinot Noir. This beguiling Pinot might be Hardie's best to date, which is saying a lot for a winery whose Pinots are often singled out as some of the most compelling in the province. An alluring combination of fresh strawberry, Saskatoon berry, pomegranate, rhubarb, lilac and rose petal charm your nose and palate. The wine isn't all just coquettish charm though. The signature Hardie flinty minerality, electric County acidity and moderate fine tannins sit under the fruit, providing it with some stylish verve and and an exciting flare on the finish. It also delivers the balance and silky texture that Pinot-philes crave. Together it all adds up to a wine with some serious depth, tension and finesse and it does so in beguiling style.
2012 Rosé Traditional Method
Very early on when Jonas Newman and Vicki Samaras settled in Prince Edward County to start a winery they realised the importance of focus in a young and growing region. Hinterland was the first and remains the only Ontario winery whose line-up is entirely sparkling wine. When they dedicated themselves to that focus, they also wisely considered the region's Somewhereness. With a cool climate, naturally high acidity and mineral-rich limestone soils ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Hinterland's location in Hillier has many of the key attributes of the world's most famous sparkling wine region. But even then that doesn't mean everything always unfolds as expected. With it's early start and great length and warmth, Ontario's 2010 vintage isn't a prototypical one for sparkling wine. The major challenge in Prince Edward County was the early start got the vines going sooner than usual. That led to early bud break and some frost damage at some vineyards in mid-May. Hinterland was one of them, loosing a significant amount of its potential crop (60%) that year. Luckily, the rest of the vintage was warm, balanced and without access rain, so what fruit remained was very high quality. The Hinterland team responded in step with mother nature and did things a little differently. That meant leaving more leaves to protect the grapes from the sun and over ripening (which can result in a flabby sparkler that lacks crispiness) and pressing them very lightly to retain the delicacy of the vintage. The resulting wine is very pretty one with gorgeous wild strawberry, red currant, lemon zest, and lavender, as well as a unique and intriguing combination of toast, county minerality and an unusual grains of paradise-like spicy note on the finish. It's a very different wine than the 2009 which was driven by citrus, toasty-yeast notes and an electric acidity. This vintage is creamier in feel and still retains that lively County acidity, but in a more delicate way with fresh berry fruit and the pretty nose playing the starring role.
2012 Quarry Road Estate Riesling
Under the stewardship of winemaker Paul Pender, Tawse has developed a reputation of producing some of the finest wines in the region. Look at any measure whether it be awards, reviews or sales, it all supports the winery's stellar reputation. But when you talk to Pender the success comes down to one simple thing—what happens in the vineyard. That's why you can often find him amongst the rows with his team and one of the key motivations behind converting the estate Cherry Avenue and Quarry Road vineyards over to organic and biodynamic farming. For him selecting of the grape varieties best suited to the site, attentive vineyard management and breathing life into the soils allow Tawse wines to fully express where they are grown. That was something Pender and Tawse chose to share during this Somewhereness by pouring all of their organic and biodynamic Quarry Road vineyard wines. This vineyard sits on a breezy site, near the top of the escarpment in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation, with well-drained and limestone-rich soils as a legacy from its previous life as a quarry. It's also a vineyard that tends showcase a focused-linear profile in its wines with a distinct, elegant minerality. The wine which showcased this best was the 2012 Quarry Road Riesling. That vintage was a warm one, which resulted in a little more body and ripeness than usual plus an unmistakable floral character on the nose. With peach, tangerine, apricot and orange blossom this is certainly a juicy, crowd-pleasing Riesling done in an off-dry style. That juicy fruit and a touch of sweetness is balanced beautifully against an elegant and bright fresh acidity and a vein of pithy Quarry Road limestone minerality that flows through it from start to finish.
2011 M2 Small Lot Gamay
Both Malivoire and winemaker Shiraz Mottiar are both big believers in Niagara's potential, specifically the Beamsville and Twenty Mile Bench, for the Burgundian varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay. The mineral-rich glacial soils and extended moderate growing season combine to produce an unique expression of those grapes. While Malivoire produces some exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, it's often the Gamay that really sets the winery apart from others. The 2011 M2 Small Lot Gamay is no exception. Made in a fresh, light style to show off the grape's juicy red fruit, this wine is partially aged in stainless steel tanks. That allows the wine to deliver the bright fresh flavours of cherry, raspberry, red currant and strawberry. The majority of the wine spends a brief period (six months) ageing in mostly older French and American barrels. The brief oak ageing gives the wine a bit of a rounder feel with some elevated body to match-up to the bright fruit and delivers subtle hints of nutmeg and cinnamon. Although some feel any oak in Gamay can interfere with the enjoyment of the fruit, this wine's distinct savoury, peppery and mineral finish shows through without fail providing a solid argument for this best of both worlds approach.
2011 Picone Vineyard Riesling
Availability: Online or at Stratus
The affable Charles Baker doesn't physically own a winery or a vineyard, which is understandable given his full time job is leading the marketing effort at Stratus, but he has a focused vision. Throughout his career at both Cave Spring and Stratus, Baker has always been captivated by Niagara-grown Riesling's ability to capture the sense of place of both the vineyard and vintage. So when he started his virtual label in 2005 the goal was always to make a Riesling, which was able capture that sense of place very well. At first, it was through a portfolio which consisting of just a single Riesling from the Picone vineyard in the Vinemount Ridge. In the last couple years the portfolio has double and now includes a second Riesling from the Ivan vineyard in the Twenty Mile Bench. The style and winemaking has been consistent over the years. It's very low yields in the vineyard, careful sorting for the ripest berries at harvest and the unusual step of using only free-run juice before a careful, controlled fermentation and a bit of bottle ageing. The result is an off-dry, concentrated house style that Baker believes best represents the vineyard sites and the vintage. His most exciting wine at Somewhereness was the 2011 Picone Vineyard. This vintage is a fresh lively one that's driven by lemon, lime, grapefruit, and a zesty, chalky limestone minerality. There's also an interesting softer side to this Riesling making it kind of a happy medium between the previous two vintages. The push-pull tension between the off-dry sweetness and mineral-acidity on the finish isn't as tight as 2009, but there's also less of that flinty, slightly-rubbery Riesling funk than in 2010. The most intriguing new addition is a very delicate white lily note. It will be interesting to see how this one evolves and comes together over the new few years.
2010 Whimsy! '101' Cabernet Franc
Southbrook has always been about expressing the vineyard's sense of place in its wines. The winery's estate vineyard was the first in Ontario to be certified organic and biodynamic and that now includes the whole 150 acre property (most other wineries only have certain vineyards are plots which are certified). The philosophy is all about wine growing–be proactive in the vineyard listening to the vines and the season. At the core is biodynamic farming helping create a diverse microbial environment in the soil, which is reflected in the fruit and ultimately the wines. Southbrook also chooses its grapes varieties carefully to suit the sun-kissed and flat corner of Niagara-on-the-Lake where its located. That means Chardonnay for its whites and Cabernets representing its red—particularly Cabernet Franc. Over the past few vintages winemaker Brian Hamilton, consulting winemaker Ann Sperling, assistant winemaker Regan Kapach the team at Southbrook have explored what Cabernet Franc can do in its vineyard with great results. The soon to be released 2010 Whimsy! '101' is shaping-up to be the best Southbrook Cabernet Franc yet and one of best of the vintage. It's layered, pretty and elegant but powerful. Beyond the classic Niagara raspberry, it delivers: serviceberry, wild blueberry and a haunting violet meets freshly-tilled earth note. It possesses great balance between acidity and some youthful grippy tannin and showcases an appealing supple but edgy texture, like a weathered leather jacket.
2011 Bistro Series Chardonnay & Pinot Noir
Price: Varies (usually mid-teens)
Availability: By the glass at restaurants through Toronto and Southern Ontario (like Victor, Red's Wine Tavern, Farmhouse Tavern)
One of the interesting threads of this year's Somewhereness was the number of wineries (Stratus, 13th Street and Hidden Bench) which poured licensee only wines. Judging by the many positive reactions of tasters that should translate to a lot Ontario wine being featured on wine list by the glass and bottle at many Toronto and Southern Ontario restaurants. The two that stood out were from Hidden Bench's Bistro series. Both from the 2011 vintage, these wines offer-up a taste of what Hidden Bench is all about. But they do so at friendlier price with an eye on being available to diners by the glass. The wines essentially see the same white glove treatment as Hidden Bench's estate series, but with a little less time in oak and they come from the younger vines of the estate Felseck Vineyard. In short they're great wines made in a fresher, easier drinking, food-friendly style and at an even better price. The Chardonnay is quintessentially Beamsville Bench with a citrus-tree meets stone fruit combination of: peach, apple and lemon along with a little hint of melon, oak spice and mineral. The fruit and freshness shine with the oak providing a nice frame to showcase them while adding some fleshy texture. The Pinot Noir is equally beautiful with the combination of: cranberry, kirsch, pomegranate, a touch of earth and chalky minerality. Again the fruit shines with some moderate tannin, a touch of Pinot's signature velvety texture and a nice friendly acidity providing a fresh backbone.
This trend of showcasing licensee wines also ties into one of the most exciting Somewhereness developments. The Mercatto group, who held the Somewhereness winemakers dinner for 92 attendees post-tasting, have decided extend that relationship by pouring Somewhereness wines by the glass at its three locations throughout April. The restaurants normally only serves Italian wines by the glass and Italian and Ontario wines by the bottle to match their Italian cuisine. But the enthusiasm for the Somewhereness dinner, which sold out weeks in advance, prompted Mercatto to embrace Somewhereness beyond a single event. Naturally, they would only be making this move if the customers were enjoying and embracing these great local wines. It's always hard to predict where things develop from here, but given the enthusiasm of the Mercatto group, sommeliers and restaurant owners at this year's Somewhereness, 2013 is shaping-up to be another big one for Ontario wine.
Somewhereness wines available at Mercatto by the Glass in April;
Mercatto College St.
13th Street Gamay Noir 2010 Four Mile Creek
Charles Baker Riesling Picone 2010 Vinemount Ridge
Cave Spring Gewurztraminer 2011 Beamsville Bench
Mercatto Bay St.
Norman Hardie Pinot Noir County Unfiltered 2010 Prince Edward County
Tawse Cabernet Franc Growers Blend 2010 Twenty Mile Bench
Stratus Fume Blanc Tollgate 2009 Niagara-On-The-Lake
Mercatto Toronto St.
Bachelder Chardonnay 2010 Niagara Peninsula
Hidden Bench Terroir Cache 2008 Beamsville Bench
Hinterland Traditional Method Rosé 2009 Prince Edward County
Trattoria Mercatto (Eaton Centre)
Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc Rosé 2011 Niagara-On-The-Lake
Malivoire Melon de Bourgogne 2012 Twenty Mile Bench
Flat Rock Pinot Noir 2010 Twenty Mile Bench