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A Pocket Guide to Ontario Wines, Wineries, Vineyards & Vines (September 22, 2005)

book review
by Dean Tudor

A Pocket Guide to Ontario Wines, Wineries, Vineyards & Vines (McClelland & Stewart, 2005, 272 pages, ISBN 0-7710-3055-X, $22.99 paper covers with French leaves) is by Konrad Ejbich, a Wine Writers' Circle of Canada colleague who appears on CBC radio monthly and writes a wine column for Style at Home. He is also a Canadian correspondent for the Wine Spectator.

In setup, the book is modeled on Hugh Johnson's pocket book approach, with details about the history and development of all the wineries in Ontario, which will number 125 in 2006. It is alphabetically arranged, with the usual names and numbers to access the winery. Interspersed are valuable details of vineyard names, estates and designations, as well as general wine topics of interest. Thus, "Asian Lady Beetle" follows "Angels Gate Winery", and it comes before "Atalick Vineyard". But in this case, there is no cross-reference from "Ladybug" to "Asian Lady Beetle", and since the only index is to names of "Industry People" (very useful, by the way), you won't find ladybug indexed anywhere. You have to know that "Asian" is the opening word.

After the descriptive material about each winery Konrad gives a variety of tasting notes. He evaluates older vintages of wines no longer available for sale, and this is a boon for collectors and for those who wish to see at a glance the ongoing development of a particular wine. He gives probable dates for drinking peaks (check the legend on the French leaf).

For current vintages, he requested samples from the winery (I have mixed feelings about this, since bottles can be tampered with; it has happened to me at least once). Some wines have been tasted in less-than-ideal conditions (such as at trade shows) and these have been noted as such. He gives ratings for each wine (there is a legend on the front French leaf) but doesn't give any production runs, just totals of cases for each winery. Gold prize winners have their medal identified. When a wine is dreck, he says so.

Incredibly, some wineries did not want to participate. They are listed as such, so his directory remains inclusive, even if he was unable to rate their wines.

Some fruit wines are covered, but here he is inconsistent. For example, there is nothing for Sunnybrook Farms, which is all non-grape fruit. And while he has rated the five fortified fruit wines from Southbrook, he doesn't mention the Cranberry table wine at Stoney Ridge, nor the fruit wines at Konzelmann (great peach) or Hernder (great rhubarb), nor the fruit-flavoured and fruit icewines that do exist. He covers some apple ciders from Prince Edward County, but no apple wines or ciders from Archibald. Indeed, there is even no entry for "Fruit Wines" or "QC", through which he could have explained all these things.

Near the end of the book he has VQA Vintage Charts, 2004–1988, which are based on surveys of winemakers. And this is a great chart.

When I review a book, I always dip into it and begin reading. What to make of this description of a Viognier wine on p.55: "Good body, balance, supple texture, and refreshing acidity are overshadowed by sheer charm"? Doesn't he mean "enhanced"? Overshadowed implies a negative assessment.

Overall, and I suppose that this is because I know a lot about reference books and Ontario wines and thus I can easily spot them, there is a lack of attention to some details. A Colio Gewurztraminer is described: "Rich gold with a mildly plastic overtone". What does that mean, beyond excessive usage of the prefix "over"? What does plastic look like? "Filmy" might be a better word. These can all be easily fixed in the next edition.

Another example: Joseph Pohorly is described on p. 89 as "Ukrainian-born" and on p. 119 as a "native of Vineland". On p. 145, "baled" is used instead of "bailed". For Stratus, J-L Groulx has been the current winemaker only since 2004 (this date is not noted in the text), and he did not have a hand in making any of the wines being reviewed, just finishing some of them. I understand that Stratus' winemaking philosophy will be changing.

Under Royal De Maria, there is listed a Gewurztraminer 2002, without any indication that this is an icewine. The four wines reviewed for Vinoteca are from 1991–1999. On the two pages of 30 Marynissen wine reviews, only three are from the 21st century. Yes, I know Konrad reviewed older wines, but these reviews should have been in context, since there is no indication that these wineries did not co-operate.

There is no review of Strewn's entry-level Chardonnay, despite its General Listing at the LCBO. Yet there is a review of Peninsula Ridge's Chardonnay 2003, also General Listed, which is cited as non-VQA because of the strange deal that happened in 2004 which allowed non-VQA wines from 2003 (a short harvest) to be bottled by those wineries who wished to protect their LCBO VQA General Listings. Strewn was also in this position with its Chardonnay 2003, but Konrad doesn't cover it. Nevertheless, a good first edition that will improve as the years go by. I cannot wait for the 2006 version.

Audience and level of use: The passionate wine lover who wants to discover more about Ontario wines, wine schools.

Some interesting or unusual facts: It is hard to believe that Konrad writes almost a whole book about Ontario VQA wines, but only spends four lines telling us what VQA is! We need to know about grape percentages allowed, tasting panel work, the 2003 short harvest and the subsequent General List protection racket, and the like. It needs a whole section, at least a page, maybe more. There is no listing for VQA under "V".

What I don't like about this book: It desperately needs an index by varietal, so readers can cross-check from one winery to another, to compare varietal offerings. Also, the French leaves are difficult to keep closed, and prove a hindrance when constantly being placed in a pocket. No prices, not even price ranges, are given, and there is no explanation for this omission. Sales availability of the wines is not offered: some of these wines are on the General List of the LCBO and this should be noted.

What I do like about this book: I like the fact that there are no photos, logos, labels, etc. No illustrations mean that the costs can be kept down. He has excellent, hard-to-find details on the vineyards in Ontario, and a good discussion on the ladybug problem. But while it is nice to have reviews of non-VQA wines, I think he needs to give us a rationale for their inclusion. Most of his non-VQA tasting notes say "plonk", "dreck", "grapey", "generic", "simple", "sauvignon bland", and many have no stars. Since he picked and chose his way among the fruit wines, then he could have done the same with the non-VQA wines. He does provide some sharp and good notes for the better "Cellared in Canada" wines.

Quality/Price Ratio: Hey, despite my carping, this book has to be a 93.




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