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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 141 (June 18, 2007)

Monday, June 11: Worked on the article on importing wine into Canada for Wine Business International. Heard from one Quebec importer who does not want to be identified for reasons of reprisals from the SAQ that the monopoly insists that importers sell one and a half times their annual quota to remain on the listings in their first year of operation. If they don't they are dropped from the stores and have to discount the remaining wine and pay a fine. A late lunch with Stephen and Jacques Pauwels, the Brampton ravel agents, to discuss an itinerary for next year's May eleven-day wine tour. We've decided to make it Alsace, Champagne with a day trip into Baden. As soon as I get the breakdown of daily travel I'll contact the wineries in these regions to arrange visits.

Tuesday, June 12: More work on the article. Today concentrated on British Columbia and Alberta. This evening is the annual consumers' tasting of the medal-winning wines at the Ontario Wine Awards now called "sip Ontario," efficiently mounted by Forefront Communications. The event takes place at the Fermentation Cellar in the Distillery District. To add more interest this year, participating wineries who have won medals at the OWA can bring along up to three other wines to show. The layout is better this year with the 11 food stations (all Ontario resort chefs) paired with the winery booths so that the wines each winery offers match the finger foods. There is also a live cooking demonstration.

Wednesday, June 13: Today the Wine Writers Circle is touring three Niagara wineries by bus. I am driving separately because I have had several visits to Tawse, which is the first stop. Instead I head for Hidden Bench, Ontario's newest winery that opens officially next Thursday on the summer solstice. Proprietor Harald Thiel and winemaker Jean-Martin Bouchard show me around the facility. Very modern and beautifully equipped with wood open-top fermenters and temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. They have an interesting barrel racking structure – a steel honeycomb support system - that allows Jean-Martin to slide a barrel out of its position to turn it without resorting to a fork lift. Hidden Bench will have 75 acres planted next year and is currently making 3,000 cases. They intend to grow to 8,000 by 2010 and cap production there. "If Jean-Martin can't touch every barrel, then we're too big," says Harald. The winery is heated and cooled by a geothermal system with pipes 400 feet to a 23-foot-deep pond on the property. Jean-Martin Bouchard, a Quebecker, is married to an Australian. He worked in Oz for six years at Penfolds, Torbeck, Wirra Wirra and Morilla in Tasmania. He has also spent 18 months at Sumac Ridge in the Okanagan. "We want to lead with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling," says Harald as we start the tasting. These wines are only available at the winery or on line at Their first commercial vintage is 2005 and I must say they have hit the ground running. These are wonderful wines and priced accordingly.

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2005: Pale colour with a lime tint. Already showing petrol notes, very fresh and dry – Clare Valley meets Rheingau.

Hidden Bench Roman's Block Riesling 2006 (Rosomel Vineyard): A natural ferment wine. A great sense of terroir here, developing floral notes on the nose, all lime and apricot flavours with great length.

Nuit Blanche White Meritage 2005 from the Rosomel Vineyard: Jean-Martin's time at Sumac Ridge shows in this wine. Medium straw colour with a smoky, toasty, spicy nose; the flavour of fresh green plums backed by vanilla oak. Reminiscent of Domaine de Chevalier in style.

Estate Chardonnay 2005: Medium straw colour; spicy, minerally, apple blossom and apple flavour – mouth-filling, sweet and broad, full-bodied with a warm alcoholic finish.

Vieilles Vignes Chardonnay 2005: Medium straw colour; Burgundian style, rich, intense, spicy apple fruit; full-bodied, sweet pear flavour with well integrated oak and great length.

Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay 2006: Still tight on the nose but showing creamy apple and vanilla oak notes; fleshy and beautifully balanced, full on the palate. Chevalier-Montrachet in a warm year.

Locust Lane Rosé 2006 (70% Pinot Noir and 15% each of Syrah and Malbec): Deeply coloured, strawberry and white pepper on the nose; fruity, firm, minerally with good structure and a floral note. An excellent rosé.

Estate Pinot Noir 2005: Ruby coloured; minerally, cherry bouquet with evident French oak; solid black cherry flavour with good acidity. Flavourful.

Terroir Caché 2005 Estate Meritage (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot): Dense purple-black; spicy blackcurrant, vanilla oak with a floral grace note. Poised and polished, a lovely claret-style red.

La Brunate 2005 (60% Merlot, 20% Malbec, 18.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1.5% Cabernet Franc from the Rosomel Vineyard): Dense purple colour; cedar, spicy blackcurrant, mouth-filling and dryly elegant. Firm structure. If I had had this blind I would have guessed it to be a top St. Emilion. My favourite of the tasting.

Next stop, Flat Rock Cellars, where I join my fellow wine writers. Flat Rock bottles everything under screwcap and can rightfully claim to be the first winery in the world to bottle Icewine under this closure. I have always thought that Flat Rock's Nadja's Vineyard Riesling is among the three best Rieslings in Canada. The other two are both from Ontario – Cave Spring CSV Riesling and Thirty Bench Triangle Vineyard. Marlize Beyers is Flat Rock's winemaker, a South African who has worked vintages at Lanzarac, at Flagstone in Somerset West as well as in Germany and Bordeaux. It is these young winemakers from abroad who are bringing their experience to Niagara that are making all the difference today. The two wines I really enjoy from the portfolio are Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2005 (caramel and citrus flavours, nicely oaked) and Gravity Pinot Noir 2005 (tawny ruby, raspberry, licorice flavours; elegant, firm structure with lively acidity.) After lunch in the tasting room (pea soup with asparagus and poached egg, flank steak), Ed Madronich tells us about the "In The Winemaker's Boots" program where paying guests can learn the techniques of pruning and blending.

The last winery visit is Fielding, whose first vintage was 2002. Ken Fielding owns the rights to the Subway franchises and spent a bundle on this contemporary winery. Ray Cornell, formerly with Hernder, has taken over the winemaking duties. He makes an excellent Gewürztraminer Reserve 2006 – all rose petals, raspberry candy and lychees. He has two barrels of Aglianico but unfortunately we didn't get to taste them. I wasn't aware that anyone grew this Italian variety in Canada.

My final stop today is Queens Landing in Niagara-on-the-Lake, where I am conducting a dinner tasting for a convention of pharmaceutical salespeople. The wines were:

  • Hillebrand Trius Riesling 2006
  • Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc A. J. Lepp Vyd. 2006
  • Malivoire Estate Gamay 2004
  • Angels Gate Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
  • Marynissen Cabernet Merlot 2002
  • Henry of Pelham Special Select Late Harvest Vidal 2005

After a long day of tasting I decided to stay the night so I booked myself in to The Prince of Wales.

Thursday, June 14: A day in front of the computer apart from lunch with Guy at an all-day breakfast place around the corner. For dinner, salmon with Kistler Chardonnay (Carneros) 2005. A pity it costs $79.95 a bottle, otherwise I would drink more of it. Deborah loved it too.

Friday, June 15: A Vintages tasting day. Zoltan Szabo, back from Austria, was there to share the tasting. For dinner, BBQ hamburgers with Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel 2005 from Lodi. A perfect match.




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