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Italy 2017 – Menfi – Planeta

18 Nov

After 6 days in Tuscany, we took the short (90 minute) flight to Palermo from Florence. As ‘under development’ as Florence Airport was, Palermo’s airport (Falcone-Borsellino) was the finished product – shiny and clean. A beautiful atmosphere at the shoreline in the shadow of mountains.

We stayed 5 days at an Airbnb outside of the small town of Menfi – directly south of Palermo on the south shore of Sicily. Having never Airbnb’d it before we were a little nervous about how this might all end up. And, we had the recent experience of Wrong Date Dufton in Volterra to give us pause.

In Tuscany it seemed that most everyone you would  bump into spoke some English. In Menfi, the opposite may be true. Those involved in hospitality certainly speak some English but most other people don’t. Our host didn’t. Then there’s Sicilian which is a nothing like Italian. Ah, but there was Google Translate.

I had used Google Translate to find words or phrases for this blog or in a previous life – typing in the English to read the translation. I hadn’t used its spoken functionality on the fly though. Agostino, our Airbnb host (an absolutely charming guy) met us at a preordained spot with his cell phone at the ready. He greeted us with, “Hello, Beel.” and then proceeded to speak Italian quickly into his phone. Then turned the phone toward us where a lovely lilting UK-accented woman said, “I now take you to the house.” Got it. It was a discovery that was of great assistance on the rest of our journey. I like my new friend GT, she’s cool.

The home in Menfi

The accommodation was beautiful – a purpose-built home on a hill overlooking an olive grove that flowed down to the Mediterranean Sea – south-west facing for the sunsets (below). Four minutes to the shore.  There was an organic farm on the property where we could avail ourselves of fresh organic pomodoro, melanzana, basilico, etc. We harvested and ate several meals from the garden served along with the prior year’s olive oil from the grove surrounding the house. If you’re ever heading that way, the Airbnb link to this property is at the bottom of the post. Highly recommend it.

Sunset in Menfi

On the wine front, there were many options and opportunities to explore in the area. There is a huge and I mean yuuuge, Carolyn, wine co-op in Menfi. Settesoli is the biggest wine operation on the island.

Settesoli wines are marketed under the Mandarossa or Inycon labels and include: Pinot Grigio; Zibibbo; Grillo; Chardonnay; and, Nero d’Avola among many others. There is even a ‘life-style’ magazine put out by ‘Mandarossa’. A neat little boutique with knowledgeable staff at the winery property is easy to find in the southeast corner of Menfi town .

As we looked out at the sea from our house, there was a rolling grove of olives trees that led all the way to the shore. Those olive trees were part of Planeta’s operation. Planeta is a wine, hospitality, and olive oil operation. They have wineries throughout Sicily (Noto, Etna, Vittorio, Capo Milazzo), the olive oil farm (Capparrina) and a beautiful agriturismo (Foresteria) the latter two just outside Menfi town. And, it all started just outside Menfi below the town of Sambuca di Sicilia on the shores of Lake Arancio.

Planeta, the family, has been involved in agriculture for 17 generations beginning on the site near Sambuca. The ethos of the whole Planeta family of wineries is: (from their website):

Planeta at Ulmo – Vines leading down to Lake Arancio

“The ethics of production and the protection of the environment, the countryside and the culture of each place, through sustainable long-term viticulture, wineries perfectly integrated in the landscape and wines which perfectly represent each territory, are common to our presence everywhere. The spontaneous impulse to pursue beauty pushes us to seek ever new ways to be witness to them, not only with our wines and olive oils but also through the projects for hospitality, art and social responsibility in which we continue to invest.”

Strada del Vino Terre Sicane

So, we were off to Planeta at Ulmo below Sambuca di Sicilia. After but one turn around on the Strada del Vino, we arrived at the town of Sambuca di Sicilia – I never did find out if the anise-flavoured flaming digestif was named after the town but I somehow doubt it. Prior to setting out, The Director had asked if I needed to get ‘real’ directions to the winery. In a misplaced sense of confidence (and unfortunately being a man), I replied, “No worries. It’s a pretty big operation. There will be directional ‘PLANETA’ signs all over the place.” That would be wrong, Bill. To arrive there, I had to perform as a wine diviner sans rod – a virtual wine dowser, if you will. Because I can indeed find the wine is all I’m saying. I’m good. It’s intuitive. I have a gift. How can I monetize it?

Barrels of Chardonnay

At Planeta, we were met by a lovely woman (who’s name my notes don’t reveal. Damn). She apologized profusely as her English was a ‘disaster’.  Not at all. She was great! After a tour of the winery – in the midst of fermentation – which was cool, we toured the barrel room where we were treated to the small cave of Traditional Method Blanc de Blancs made from Menfi Chardonnay.

The road down to Lake Arancio flanked by vines

Then back to an al fresco tasting room for the main event. Well, here we go.

We started with a sparkling wine from Etna – Planeta Metodo Classico made from 100% Carricante. A big hit with us. Not really a food wine but an above grade bubbly for toasting, appeftif, or just sipping afternoons by the lake. Crisp, clean, mineral, apples and citrus.

Then followed the 2015 Planeta Cometa. The Cometa is made with  100% Fiano from the Menfi area. Fiano is pure Southern Italy. It shines predominantly in Campania but this Sicilian take is representative of the grape – herbal, floral nose – crisp at first sip (nice acidity) then rounding out a bit as it progresses – minerality, citrus vibe. Medium finish. Very nice effort.

The crown jewel of Planeta at Menfi is their Chardonnay. They make it at Ulmo, hence the barrel room above. It is the wine that put Planeta on the map initially and, I’d have to say it’s the best Chardonnay that I’ve ever tasted from Italy (notwithstanding the Frescobaldi offering I’ll talk about next post). We tasted the 2016 Planeta Chardonnay €20. Toast, lemon on the sniff. Oak evident on the palate – nice lip smack on the finish. Balanced, not overly oaky (French oak – 50% new), opens nicely in the glass. A very classy sip. Did not present as being from a hot climate as in the fruit wasn’t as ripe as you might expect – restrained. Well made wine.

On the red front, we led with the 2016 Santa Cecilia €20 from their Noto operation. This was a 100% Nero d’Avola wine. Wine Enthusiast gave the 2011 vintage a 94 and said, “Always one of the finest expressions of Nero d’Avola.” That’s a pretty good endorsement. The most evident thing in this wine was the chalky, minerality – both on the sniff and the gargle. It presented as a more mature wine taste-wise than it’s real age might have predicted – dried fruits, leather, raspberry. But, the tannins were still a bit hard and the wine needs some time down below to reach its full potential IMHO. We saw how that might work out when they popped the cork on a 2007 Planeta Santa Cecilia N/A. This wine smelled of stony prunes and tasted like blueberries – big time on the finish, pomegranates. Tannins well integrated. Verrrry nice wine. Truly Old School Nero d’Avola. Just typing this makes me wish I had brought a few bottles of the 2016 home.

The last wine tasted was the 2013 Planeta Burdese €18. This wine made from 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Cabernet Franc was intriguing. After my time in Bolgheri, I was interested in seeing how Bordeaux grapes translated further south. This smelled of earth, dark fruit with a hint of the 14.5% ABV wafting up. Full on cassis on the gargle – very fruit forward – international style dominated by the Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the only wine that we tried that didn’t really do it for me. It could have been the fact that it was late in the tasting. Or, my lack of enthusiasm at times for Cabernet Sauvignon. So, I’ll give this one another chance all on its own.

They make a 100% Syrah at Sambuca – 2013 Planeta Maroccoli Syrah €30. Our host was very insistent that I take a bottle home – spicy, toasty, ready now or hold for 7 to 10 years. I’m an easy target on stuff like this.

Planeta makes wines from other grapes at this site as well –  Grillo, Grecanico, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

We also picked up the 2008 Planeta Chardonnay €30. Our guide threw in a 375 ml Chardonnay, “Madam, you must”, and an apron. She was fabulous. We left with a stash that was going to prove problematic on the flight back to Florence. I long for the olden days when you could bring liquids on to the flight. Back then, that was me with the tinkling 85 pound carry-on.

Returned home for a glass on the terrace.

When we checked out after 5 days, our host came in to the kitchen, took one look at the empty wine bottles on the counter smiled and said, “Ah, Beel.” Not sure if that was meant as, “Ah Beel, you crazy bugger. You are my hero.” Or, “Ah Beel, time for an intervention.”

Southwest Sicily is truly amazing! If you do go, word of advice: bring along GT.

Cheers.

Bill

Settesoli website

Menfi Holiday House

Planeta website

 

 

#PEC – Road Trip!

26 May
loyalist gin

66 Gilead Loyalist Gin

I’ve been a bit remiss over the last month. Not sure why I haven’t been posting stuff. I’ve been writing it, just never getting to the part where I upload, edit, rewrite, think about it, and finally post it. Bloggers will understand. That all changes today.

We traveled to Prince Edward County for the first weekend in May. For those not familiar with “The County”, let me provide a brief introduction.

TheCounty_logoPrince Edward County is on the north shore of Lake Ontario. It was originally settled by indigenous people and following the American Revolution, land was granted by The Crown to United Empire Loyalists. Interesting how The Crown decided that they owned the land in the first place. A rant for another time? You see the term “Loyalist” at every turn as it constitutes a lot of the sense of who the people are and where they came from. Plus, it’s a cool way to brand stuff, I presume. Minus the topograhy, it does have a New Englandy feel.

Over the past 20 years or so, courageous winapreneurs have been planting vines and working the vineyards to produce worthy wines. Understandably, it’s taken awhile to establish a track record that warrants the accolades that some County wines are now receiving. To get a feel for the wine trade there, you only have to think back to your first wander in Niagara region when they were trying to get established. Wineries that bore the descriptor ‘cottage winery’ were springing up all over the place and the region was absent of any grand chateau-style tasting rooms, vanity wineries, or lavish wedding venues. That’s changed in Niagara now.

In The County, there remains a sense of exploration and adventure among the 30 plus wineries. Now, that doesn’t mean that the wines are a casualty to experimentation or still years away from a recognizable sense of place. In fact, I’d have to say that the most striking feature of PEC wines is their sense of place. The prime varietals are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. If you’re a cool climate dude or dudette, this might be your new favourite place. It’s one of those places where you’d say, “You can’t grow vinifera grapes here. It’s too damn cold in the winter.” Well, they’ve thought of that and each fall, the vines are buried. I’m not kidding, they mound dirt on top of the vines. And in the spring, pull all that dirt back off them. Seems like a lot of work because it is. Is it worth it? You bet.

I’ll include our full tasting notes in a later post. Most of the wineries discussed have a ‘club’ approach to participating in their thing. If you’re interested in learning more about the wineries or ordering some for yourself, click the links provided.

Closson Chase

Closson Chase

Closson Chase 

We had two days to wander, dropping into a number of wineries and a distillery. We started at Closson Chase. Like many of the wineries, the tasting room at Closson Chase is in a converted barn (above). Great ambience – no pretensions. Vines are planted on fractured limestone sloping towards Lake Ontario giving the wines a definite Burgundian feel. Until recently, Deborah Paskus was the winemaker there after establishing herself as a Chardonnay Ninja in Niagara. To get an idea of the quality of their Chardonnays, I quote Jancis Robinson, “We have served them blind to wine professionals with top white Burgundies and, quite literally, amazed and astounded our friends.” High praise indeed. The 2013 Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay ($27.95) was in  perfect balance with just enough oak peaking through – acidity on the finish. They craft Pinot made from Niagara grapes as well as those from their own estate. I did prefer their 2013 KJ Watson Vineyard Pinot ($34.95) which hails from Niagara. Their 2012 Closson Chase Pinot Noir ($29.95) prepared me for the general structure and character of the County Pinots that I would be experiencing the rest of our trip. Lean, powerful, minerally, and earthy. You never think, “Umm, that’s ripe.” More Oregon and Burgundy less California.  http://clossonchase.com/

The Old Third Tasting Room

Tasting Room – The Old Third

The Old Third

The tasting room staff at Closson told us about a winery that I hadn’t heard of – The Old Third. It’s just down the road from Closson, easy to find. What a cool place. Big open to the roof barn with a tasting room and another area that could serve as a sit-around-and-chat-room – a large open window looking out across the vineyard. The guy who was staffing the room was across the road hanging out when we arrived. It’s all pretty laid back. This winery also specialized in Chardonnay and Pinot with a Cabernet Franc and traditional method cider thrown in for fun. Loved the 2013 Pinot ($42.00) – minerally, lean, powerful and dusty. Really a ’boutique’ winery with small batches of wines from fruit grown on the estate.  http://www.theoldthird.com/

Keint-he Gamay Noir

Keint-he Gamay Noir

Keint-he Winery and Vineyards

On to another well reviewed winery – Keint-he. Did I mention that at almost every winery, we were the only ones in the tasting room? Speaks to timing, I guess. A while back, I had a Keint-he Chardonnay that was made in the County from Niagara grapes, but never their county wines. Have to say that the Keint-he wines seemed to hit the right note for me. The 2013 Portage Chardonnay ($25.00) was all local with a bit of oak thrown in to please those that like a bit of butter.The 2011 Portage Pinot ($20.00) made from County fruit was similar to the Old Third ones above – lighter but still lean and muscular without heaviness – mineral elements, particularly on the finish. If I had to say one red fruit, I’d refuse, there wasn’t any obvious berry peaking through. Although, I seemed a bit muddled after a day of tasting, which I don’t mind – it keeps it interesting and that’s what GPS is for. Right? They have a 2013 Voyageur Gamay Noir ($25.00) from Beamsville Bench appellation fruit. It is tangy and, what’s the word I’m searching for?……….oh yeah, ‘good’. Needs a bit of a chill to bring out the fruit. Not as dark as a Moulin-a-Vent but not as fresh as many other New World Gamays either. I liked it a lot. http://www.keint-he.ca/

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Pizza Time

Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard

Now, if you asked around, lots of wine geeks know of Norman Hardie and his story. Studied at the University of Dijon, sommelier at The Four Seasons, and itinerant wine worker, he traveled the globe learning about the agriculture that is the magic behind the sip. He discovered the ubiquitous limestone and clay in The County and established Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard in 2003 with a planting of Pinot Noir. Subsequently, he’s increased to plantings of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris as well. He purchases grapes, including Riesling, from Niagara and other county sites. This winery has a cool wood-fired pizza oven and a great patio (that’s it above) for sipping and just relaxing; which is exactly what we did.

The wine? Well, if you’re a fan of mineral-driven Pinots and Chardonnays, this is the place for you. The Pinot that took my breath away was the 2012 Norman Hardie Cuvee ‘L’ Pinot Noir ($69.00). It’s made from Niagara and County grapes fermented separately and then later blended and allowed to knit together in old French oak, Understated, elegant, dark fruits and a looooooong finish – ready for years in the cellar. The 2013 Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir ($39.00) is a fine example of County reds – first sip seems overly restrained. Second sip starts to build and then as you finish the bottle (did I just admit that?) you notice the depth, layering and a refreshing quality to the wine that wasn’t there at the beginning. Nice to have a wine with lower ABV too (10.9%).

Norman Hardie also had the only Riesling we tasted in The County. A blend of Niagara and County fruit. The 2013 Norman Hardie Riesling ($21.00) bone-dry, needs some time to develop – and that might as well get done in my cellar, eh? What do the critics think of Norman Hardie? “The Chardonnays emerging from Hardie’s small vineyard in Prince Edward County…..are laser etched with acidity, minerality, and the sort of originality that we once thought only Burgundy could deliver “ Matt Kramer http://www.normanhardie.com/

Rosehall Run

The last winery we hit was Rosehall Run. If you’re hungry, they have a food truck that serves, among other things, donut holes dusted with cinnamon or lavender. Yummy. The wine? Well, I loved their 2012 Rosehall Run Cabernet Franc Cuvée County ($29.95). Cab Franc in cooler climates sometimes – wait, almost always – carries a green pepper, vegetal nose and taste. This one didn’t. It was all fruit and dirt. Did I say I loved it? The 2012 Rosehall Run Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay ($29.95) was the favourite of The Director. Apples and a creaminess that surprised us a bit as we hadn’t experienced that profile on the trip. http://www.rosehallrun.com/

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66 Gilead Distillery

66 Gilead Distillery

We ate at The Hubb in Bloomfield (see below) the first evening and as we finished we asked our server, Lindsey, what we should do the next day. She became quite animated and said, “Why don’t you come and see me at 66 Gilead, the distillery? I work here for breakfast in the morning and then I’m at the distillery from about 11.” So, how could we refuse that invitation? We trundled off to taste hard liquor, arriving at about noon. Yes, a bit scary. Lindsey welcomed us by name to the 66 Gilead tasting room. It’s in a restored farmhouse surrounded by barns, implement sheds and free range chickens. They have artwork, old vinyl, house-made bitters, and tasty treats for sale. It’s all very cool and laid back. My oldest son, Nathan, is a gin hound. On most visits, he helps himself to my gin as the front door is closing behind him. The 66 Gilead Loyalist Gin ($43.95) is interesting. Using botanicals grown in the area and a little touch of local hops and lavender, the gin is ultra soft. Dangerously so. Juniper does not dominate as it does in most other gins I’ve experienced. I had to get him a bottle. The LCBO carries this but in limited availability. They make a pine vodka that struck me as an acquired taste – didn’t care for it. But, the hit of the visit was the Wild Oak Whisky ($68.95). This had a definite Bourbon vibe. Styled with 47% alcohol it disappeared during a recent trip to the cottage with a friend. Funny that. They also fashion a maple whisky, rum, and a sporit distilled from sake among other spirits. For the maple whisky, they take a used whisky barrel and fill it with maple syrup, let sit for 6 months, drain, fill with whisky and let it sit for a good length of time. Viola. I didn’t try the whisky but the maple syrup was awesome! This was my first trip to a craft distiller. I will have to make a point of looking them up when I travel. If you get to 66 Gilead, say hi to Lindsey. http://66gileaddistillery.com/

Our trip to The County was fabulous. It is such a personable place. And, wherever you are, you can feel Lake Ontario’s presence. Not wishing to compare apples and oranges but, if you’ve been to a long established ‘tourist’ wine region, you’ll have experienced the other end of the spectrum. That doesn’t imply a lack of sophistication in PEC – far from it. It’s just a different vibe, an excitement about the possibilities and about being part of something unique. More interactive and, dare I say, friendly? I appreciate that difference. In The County, you can count on bumping into people that you saw at the restaurant the night before, served you at a winery and are now working part-time in a store where you’re picking up a gift. And, bless their hearts, they recognize you too. The wineries are all very close together – biking distance (not that we biked) and have friendly, knowledgeable staff. And, if you pick your time, you could be the only ones wasting theirs.

Additional tidbits:

We ate at The Hubb in Angeline’s Inn in Bloomfield. A bit noisy but the food was well prepared and inventive. Good wine list and by the glass (I had a Gamay from Lighthall – needed a slight chill – but perfect with the fish) – mostly local as you would expect. Countylicious menu $30 prix fixe 3 course meal. Enjoyed ceviche, beet salad, pickerel, a veggie pasta dish and great desserts. Highly recommend. http://angelines.ca/the-hubb-c16.php

We also ate at East and Main in Wellington. A bit more bistro-esque. Good selection of wines – mostly local. The wait staff was a woman from a tasting room we visited the day before. Countylicious menu prix fixe 3 course meal $35. Highly recommend. http://eastandmain.ca/

We stayed at The Century House B&B in Bloomfield. You guessed it. A lovely century home with spectacular gardens. $120 per night. Highly recommend. http://www.centuryhousebandb.com/

(Not Really) Previously Unexplored Wineries – Flat Rock Cellars

31 Oct

flatrocktm

First thing I’m going to do? Change the title of this series from “Previously Unexplored Wineries” to “Sometimes Previously Unexplored and Sometimes Regularly Explored Wineries”? “Wineries ‘n More”? Not quite? “Wineries-o-Rama”? I know, it needs work. I’ll get my crack marketing team to blue sky it, socialize the concept, and prepare a few story boards for our consideration.

The reason I need to change the name of the series is that today I’m going to talk about a winery that I have visited and ‘explored’ on several occasions – Flat Rock Cellars.

Flat Rock Cellars was started in 1999. However, the owning/managing family Mandronich have been involved in viticulture for quite a bit longer. Flat Rock’s vibe is eco-sensitive, fun, small-batchy, quirky. They are clearly tied to the land – their spot on the bench – and take care to ….take care. Although they don’t have biodynamic or organic certification, you can relax. They employ a low-impact approach to their business, from geo-thermal heating to gravity-flow processing. They have Estate, Reserve, and single vineyard wines. Although there’s a gewurtztraminer line and the syrah below, Flat Rock is primarily pinot noir, chardonnay, and riesling – grapes that do well in cool climes. So, if you’re first and foremost a Bordeaux varietal guy or gal, take a pass. Flat Rock came to my attention and stayed there, in part, due to my love for Nadja. We’ll talk about her later.

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The Perch

On an early fall day, we arrived somewhat sated after a lunch at On The Twenty (scallops, for me) in Jordan Village. If you’ve never, you need to…..dine at On the Twenty, that is. It’s a special treat. But, Flat Rock beckoned and we answered the call. Well, answered the call after we (we as in – not me) shopped a bit in Jordan. Flat Rock’s reception building (pictured above) is a hexagonal perch on the side of the escarpment looking out over the valley below and on to Lake Ontario and, as their website points out, a vista extending to the bright lights of Toronto on a clear evening. It really is a great place to sit and sip. I’ve been there several times and it was always quite busy. This time we lucked out as there were only we two until some interlopers arrived. Ted greeted us and we immediately found out that we knew some of the same people in #lndnont. You see Ted lived in London and used to be in the entertainment business – the technical side. Those that grew up watching Polka Dot Door will be excited to learn that Ted toured with the Polka Dot Door touring company; working as part of the legendary Jones’ crew. I’m betting a solid member of IATSE. For those from regions that don’t get TVOntario (most of the world), Polka Dot Door was a children’s staple when I was plugging my boys into television to educate them (read: babysit). Star of the show? Polk-a-Roo – an actor dressed up as an unrecognizable animal who could only say, “Polk-a-Roo, Polk-a-Roo.” I know, I can’t figure out how it stayed on the air either. Anyway, Ted was our very capable guide through the wines of Flat Rock. The tasting room is a large, very open room with glass on all sides. It has a bit of an industrial feel – wood and steel – open displays of their wines. So, if you just want to walk around and discover on your own, it’s easy. After we got the, “Oh yeah, we know him too.” And, “London still sleepy?” out of the way, we waded into the wines.

The wines:

If you’ve been reading me for a while or received my emails before I went high tech with a website, I’m Breton you’ll remember that I’ve recommended Nadja before. Did you catch the erudite literary reference? No? Too nadjasurreal for you? Hmm, that didn’t catch either? Nadja is the name of the vineyard that’s immediately south and slightly above the reception building at Flat Rock. It is planted to riesling, I think exclusively. Every year, the Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling seems to get a bit better – vine age? We tasted the 2012 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling #578625 #19.95 (availability extremely limited – 2013 now available through winery). These wines are always dry, clean, and seamless. This vintage brought some peaches with the usual citrus. Not so much on the nose but in the mouth and on the swallow – battling a good dose of juicy acidity. A lovely wine and maybe the best vintage of this I’ve had. Although it could just be that it’s the last vintage that I’ve tasted. My bet is that it’s gracefully cellarable for ten years.

We know that The Director loves her oaked chardonnay and Flat Rock makes a few iterations. The 2010 Chardonnay #681247 $16.95 was the oaked chardonnay that they were pushing. I mean Ted was pushing – to demonstrate their judicious use of oak. This is the same wine as their Good Karma Chardonnay (with Good Karma, Flat Rock donates a portion of proceeds to the Ontario Association of Food Banks). Well, the wine had typical chardonnay aromas of apples, some citrus. The buttery apple pie tendency with oaked chardonnays was cut a bit on the finish with some bite. Well balanced effort for this price – not overly ripe or buttery. I’d say this is a bargain for those that like an oaked chardonnay but want it food friendly as well. And the bonus? It’s a ‘local’.

 

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View from the reception building balcony

Flat Rock has a rusty shed on their property. So rather than seeing it as an eye sore or actually fixing it up, they decided to name a line after it. That’s what I need to do with my garage. Create a trademark with it. Then I wouldn’t have to clean it. I’m thinking ‘Duffswines Cluttered Garage Pages’? Anyway, as far as I can tell, this is the premium line for Flat Rock chardonnay. The 2011 Rusty Shed Chardonnay $20.25 (this vintage not available at the LCBO but the 2012 #1552 is in very limited supplies) is a more sophisticated take on oaked Niagara chardonnay. Not that the one above is clumsy (the 2010 entry level one above was the one we bought a few of, actually). It’s just that this seems a little more integrated and settled – minerality more evident too. Oak treatment subtle and complementary – not showing off on its own. If you’re oak more front and centre – select the regular bottling. More subtle and integrated oak – this is the chardonnay you’ll want.

Rogue_LogoMy familiarity with Flat Rock starts with Nadja and ends with pinot noir. However, they had a syrah that I hadn’t ever had and I just needed a tiny sip to realize that syrah doesn’t need to be shiraz in Ontario. The 2011 Rogue Syrah $35.20 (only available at cellar door or on-line) leans much closer to Saint Joseph than Barossa. If you like the latter, you’ll miss that shiraz jammy fruit with this syrah. This is leaner. It carries some herby stuff and darkness on the nose and was quite closed in the mouth. Tannins evident. Now, I’m not sounding too positive but quite the contrary, I liked this a lot. It seems to need some time in bottle or with a decant, I’m thinking that the dark fruit and herbs (coffee?) that made their presence felt on the nose will start to emerge. Distinct european feel. A powerful wine. My preference would be for this to sit for a while longer. Matching to an herbed pork roast, is what I’m planning.

frpinotFlat Rock Pinot Noir is available at the LCBO as part of their Vintages Essentials program. It’s always around waiting on any occasion to twist a cap. Oh yeah, all Flat Rock still wines are sealed with Stelvin screw tops. The vintage we tried was the 2012 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir #1545 $19.95. This cherry red wine smelled of red fruits, tasted like red cherries and carried some grip and a little spice on the finish. This puts in a regular appearance in our house and cottage as a sipper or with some pinot-matching food – chicken, fish, hummus, Kernels (that mix of cheese and caramel, in particular). It’s an accessible pinot at a fair price. Interestingly, I saw a bottle of this very wine in the Bottles store in Providence, R.I. last January. Nice to see some Ontario wines getting out and about.

Flat Rock has several pinot noirs from specific blocks within vineyards – Pond Block, Summit Block, Bruce Block. I tried the 2011 Flat Rock Bruce Block Pinot Noir $29.95. If I had a sophisticated palate, I’d wax eloquently about the subtleties of terroir and how each wine is impacted. Although that isn’t likely to happen, I’d swear that this one has been crafted with Clone 115 – evident in the darker colour. OK, I read that on-line. This wine was not ready-for-primetime yet IMHO. Great red fruit on the nose with some earthy notes – pushed with some coolness out of the glass. Coolness, as in – no heat from elevated alcohol. This wine has ABV of only 12.3%, which is a nice change from some other North American pinots that push 14%. But much of that aroma didn’t replay in the mouth. It had gentle but substantial tannins that, I think, would balance out over time getting out of the way for the fruit and earthiness. Hard to say.

frstore

Tasting Room

That’s all we tasted on site (it was our third winery, with one still to go). But, over this past summer, I have enjoyed 2013 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Rosé #39974 $16.95. This pink is deep and strawberry good. At first sip, you might think that it’s a bit off-dry, particularly if like me, Tavel is your thing. But don’t rush to conclusions and have a second glass – I think that it’s not so much off-dry as it is fruitful. Patio? Too late in the year? How about in front of the fireplace with those shrimp things you’ve been planning to make.

I’ve also enjoyed the Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir #001560 $29.95 but haven’t had the 2012. The 2012 vintage hits the stores on November 8th. In the past, a solid pinot that presents as ready to drink and is typically, for me, a bit earthier, deeper and more complex than the ‘regular’ bottling or my experience with the Bruce Block.

Other wines in their line include: Crowned and Riddled – two sparklers; Red Twisted and Twisted White – two blends; an unoaked chardonnay; a late harvest and a regular off-dry Gewurtztraminer; a regular bottling riesling; and, a Rogue pinot noir. Have not tasted any of them.

Flat Rock has a Wine Club –  Club On The Rock – which provides access to limited wines, library wines, and early access to general release wines. It also holds some events at the winery. One of the events is Ed’s Tour – where you get a tour and private tasting with the winemaker, Ed Madronich (requires a minimum of 4 peeps – anyone want to go with me?). You can join or buy wine on-line at http://www.flatrockcellars.com . Head to the website for some videos on Flat Rock which I couldn’t play as I was told I had “blocked plug-ins” which sounds quite dire. Do I need to see a doctor?

I know that I always tell you to get to a winery near you. But, this time you need to consider that winter approaches and festive occasions demand good wine and a story about a winery visit. Well, I made up that second part but wouldn’t a winery story be a good conversation piece during one of those awkward annual moments with that insufferable wine geek Uncle Bill?

Go visit Flat Rock and tell Ted that I sent you. Samples, Ed?

Other wineries in the Previously Unexplored Wineries Series

Kacaba, Megalomaniac, Pondview, Colaneri, Sue-Ann Staff, Westcott

Next Winery – Southbrook

Images courtesy of http://www.flatrockcellars.com

Previously Unexplored Wineries – Westcott Vineyards

15 Oct

 

westcott logo

Two weeks ago, I penned a post on winery stumbling in Niagara featuring, in that post, Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery. You can read that post here. This is another in the Previously Unexplored Wineries series.

One of the great things about wandering in Niagara is the surprise discovery. For me, it’s usually a wine. But on this day, it was a whole winery. Wine communities tend to co-promote. At first glance, it’s counterintuitive. A car dealership doesn’t tell you that you’ll find a great SUV at another dealership, do they? Well, my experience in several wine regions of the world is that wineries are supportive of each other. The effect of cross-pollination of staff, families, and winemakers? They all party together? A small community experiencing symbiotic bliss? Or, maybe they just want you to find what you like and are only too willing to point you in that direction. It’s Miracle on 34th Street Kris Kringle-esque. Let’s hope that doesn’t change. The alternative is a tasting room with shady staff leaning in and whispering, “Hey, dos guys up da road? Dare pinot? It’s cut. Dey cut the pinot with syrah. You can’t trust ’em. Ours is puuure Niagara pinot. Good sh** (wink, wink)” Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, being referred to Westcott Vineyards. We were tweaked to its very existence by Ted, our personal sip and spit tour guide at Flat Rock Cellars (which I’ll feature later in a post). Ted told us that Westcott made mostly pinot noir and chardonnay, both in a pretty assertive style. Umm, who likes assertive chardonnay? So, we had to wander over to Westcott which is in the same neighbourhood as Sue-Ann Staff’s and Flat Rock Cellar – maybe a kilometre away.

wextcott barn

Westcott Vineyards is a family run winery. When we were there Victoria and Garrett Westcott, daughter and son of the owners, were in the tasting room. Well, in fact, they were the only winery reps in the tasting room. What you need to know is that the concept at Westcott is natural, uncomplicated with a bit of rusticity thrown in. The winery and tasting/sales room is in a restored barn (picture above) that we were informed was moved from another location. Long harvest tables made with reclaimed wood and cement floors. It would be quite toasty when the fire is on. And, similarly to Sue-Ann Staff’s, it really presents the wine as agricultural produce not alchemy. I didn’t see farm implements but I had a feeling that they were lurking somewhere not too far away – gravel drive which is de rigeur in Niagara. Their website and personal sales pitch is focused on ‘small’. They don’t make a ton of wine and they allow the vintage to dictate what they can get out of the vineyard. No attempt to make every vintage taste the same. They get winemaking assistance from a Bordelais.

 

wesrcotttastingroom

Westcott Tasting Room

Before I get in to the wines I have to mention the boat. Their trademark and many of the references in the names of wines have to do with a restored boat found on the shores of a lake in Quebec at a family cottage, I believe. It has some historical connection to someone famous as well as to the Westcott family but I had already been to three wineries before this and had ditched the pen and paper; so the details escape me.  The boat is one of those grand old wood craft that plied the lakes of Muskoka, Quebec and New England during the heydays of cottage and resort development. This one – and I saw pictures – is spectacular! Well, anyway there’s a very important connection to the boat and it’s people. I just can’t remember it. Note to winery webmaster: put a word or two about the boat on winery’s web site.

Victoria took us through a tasting. Again, there’s a tasting fee here but refundable with purchase.

The wines:

Westcott_2012_Estate_Chardonnay-124x3592012 Estate Chardonnay $26.00 – Although this wine has had some time in oak (ferment and age) it doesn’t present as oaky in the glass. Lots of apple pie though – classic oaked chardonnay nose. In the mouth, the oak is faint and the apple replays with an assertive finish – a hit of acidity. Some creaminess but not a big chardonnay. Nice sipper for me. Dinner wine for The Director. ABV 13.5%.

2012 Estate Pinot Noir $30.00 – I was expecting this to be one of those big 2000’s California-style pinots after Ted’s claim of assertiveness. But, I was surprised at how restrained it was. Now I find that after a lengthy day tasting, my palate, which is a bit sketchy anyway, gets lazy Westcott_2012_Pinot_Estate2-124x359and maybe I need wines then that are unlike what I’ve been tasting before. So, I question myself when a wine doesn’t translate from swish to sip. But this wasn’t that. This seemed to be asleep, if that makes sense. This wine had some great things going on in the glass (earthiness, bushes, and strawberries) but it didn’t translate in my mouth. This usually means for me that it needs air or time in bottle or both. It, unlike the chardonnay above, carried some heat from the modest ABV of 13.5%. I think that this wine will start to show it’s best stuff in a few years (3 – 5) or two innings of post season baseball in the glass.

Westcott_2012_Reserve_Chardonnay-124x3592012 Reserve Chardonnay $29.00 – This chardonnay was more serious, maybe austere, than the Estate. It held somewhat the same flavour profile fruit-wise – maybe some tropical notes added – a lot more integration of the oak – more balanced. The oak didn’t so much stand out as simply provide the foundation for the fruit. It was more restrained than I had expected. I would favourably compare this to any other oaked, upper-tier Niagara chardonnay. I noticed on their web site that this has a little less alcohol (13%). Top drawer effort for oaked chardonnay lovers. But in no way did we think it over-shadowed the Estate – just different. We, in fact, purchased the Estate. Maybe because of my pinot noir choice below. Weary wallet syndrome?

Westcott_2012_Pinot_Reserve2-124x3592012 Reserve Pinot Noir $46 – I hate it when my favourite wine costs the most. So, why was this my favourite? Well, first of all – the aroma in the glass had pronounced dirty stuff. I love dirty stuff. Oh behave, let me clarify – dirty stuff, for me, as in smelling or tasting like a musty shovel of loam – kind of. I know that most wine geeks would use earthy instead and dirty is not a desirable aroma or flavour, so maybe I’ll switch to that from now on. A friend of mine has told me that he doesn’t fancy pinot noir because of the ‘earthy’ stuff. I love it because of the earthy stuff! This wine delivered more on that earthy nose than the Estate. It opened quickly and had pronounced red fruit in the mouth. It delivered on Ted’s claim that Westcott pinots were assertive. I liked this a lot. Unfortunately for my bank account, they had plenty in stock. I would have opened one of these for Thanksgiving dinner but want to leave them to figure out what they’ll become when they grow up..

There are several other wines on offer at Westcott – a rosé (Delphine), an unoaked chardonnay (Lillias), and I believe they just released a sparkler (Violette) using the charmat method. At press time (always wanted to say that), there is no availability of their products at the LCBO. You can purchase their wines at the cellar door (call 905-562-7517 email info@westcottvineyards.com ahead) or on-line at http://www.westcottvineyards.com/shop/

Glad Ted gave us the heads up on Westcott Vineyards – a great addition to my Vinemount rotation. Get thee to a winery near you!

Images courtesy of the winery.

Previously Unexplored Wineries – Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery

30 Sep

 

sas

This is my favourite time of year to visit the wineries close by in Niagara. I love the pumpkins showing in the fields, the squash and fresh crop apples at the farm stands, and the smell of wine being made in the winery itself – musty, fruity, yeasty. It’s particularly magical if you grab one of those days in the fall when it’s surprisingly warm and sunny.

When in Niagara, I tend to gravitate to the wineries around Beamsville, Jordan and Vineland. Not sure why. Maybe the familiarity? I’ve been there a bunch. The chance to stop in to Jordan Village and dine at the Inn On The Twenty? Tasty food and good shopping. Whatever – it’s a must stop for any trip to the Niagara region. And, if you’ve read my post on swallowing, you’ll recommend that I don’t visit too many in a row. So, 3 seems about right and then take the back roads to NOTL?

Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery

A little history and background is needed here. (Paraphrased from estate website) Sue-Ann Staff is a fifth generation grape grower, 2002 Ontario Winemaker of the Year, and two-time winner of the International Wine and Spirits Award in London, England (Top 4 “Women in Wine”). She also moonlights as the winemaker for Megalomaniac Wines, who I’ve featured here before. For Bordeaux freaks like me, she also assists with Megalomaniac’s sister property in St. Emillion, Chateau La Confession. I guess you could say that she’s got a pedigree?

Despite all that, this winery is about as laid back as you can get. We arrived in the midst of a wedding on the grounds. Now, grounds might be a stretch. This is a farm. It doesn’t hide the agriculture behind a faux chateau or architectural vanity piece. I think I even saw a tractor. The winery grounds open through a gravel drive and house a barn, implement shed, and farmhouse with attached tasting room. The bridesmaids were competing for space in the tasting room and the excitement was palpable. Very cool, if you dig weddings. I really do. Even with this distraction, staff were welcoming and engaged. I’ve said it before but the staff at Niagara wineries rival the best I’ve experienced in my travels. – informed, enthusiastic and focused on the customer. And, take note Napa, they do usually charge for tasting (a very nominal fee) that is always, always reimbursed when you buy, in my experience. Nothing makes me madder than paying as much as $20 a person to taste and not getting it forgiven if you buy. A rant for another time.

Before arriving here, Sue-Ann Staff meant riesling for me. I knew that they grew a bunch of riesling and had been supplying wineries for years before making their own. But, they make other wines as well.

What we tried:

11_Pinot_Grigio_large2011 Pinot Grigio $21.00 – Hey, I didn’t think anyone made a pinot grigio in Niagara either. Obviously, Bill has not been paying attention. This is an orange wine. I’ll let other more qualified people give the full explanation. Suffice it to say that the juice from white grapes spends some time on contact with the skins. To give it some colour, maybe tannins too. This wine was big in the glass – think Cerano de Bergerac spritzed with citrus fruit. It had an off-dry profile, citrus again until the finish which was surprisingly dryer. A nice switch from the ubiquitous crisp and nada PG’s that seem to flourish these days. My first orange wine!

2012 Loved By Lou Riesling $16.95 – Citrusy after a swirl. This is off-dry as well in the mouth with a steely personality. Enough acid to food pair but I found it the least individual of the wines. That is; it tasted like a lot of other mid range Rieslings that I’ve had from Niagara. In fairness, it isn’t a single vineyard or high-priced entry. This would be a good sipper around the patio.

11_Riesl_LU_3afe8d63-ce58-47ab-a8a5-f0a6e3b3c42c_large2011 Robert’s Block Riesling $26.00 – Now, we are talking. This is a dry effort that has a big hit of petrol on the nose (love that) but clean petrol not that oil sands stuff that our government blindly supports (Did I just make a political statement?). This is crisp and lip smacking in the mouth and on the finish but there is that petrol again and citrus fruit and maybe even a bit of tropicality too. Loved It! I think it could hold for a few years – at least that’s what I’m doing.

2011 Baco Noir $14.95 – This red was suggested as a possible red that The Director could drink. You see, she suffers from headaches when drinking reds. Which means? More red wine for Bill! This is a soft red – some muted acidity and tannins with strawberries and herbs making up much of the experience. I tend to heavier reds but Baco Noir has been good to me before. This one has some power without the weight. It seems perfect for those that like a very approachable red – maybe on a warmer day with snackees and a movie. Price is great too.

SAS_CAB_MERLOT_2a_5b68604f-373a-409d-a27b-d39923c3a63c_large2010 Cabernet Franc $21.95 – So, here we are at the wine that impressed me the most. Oh, I could talk about the 2010 Merlot but this is where I’d like to end. I’ve praised Niagara cab franc before and, damn, if I didn’t prefer the ones from down by NOTL. Well, this winery located near Jordan (Twenty Mile Bench and Vinemount) has me heading out to take another look at cab francs from here. This is a structured (by that I mean “not flabby”) and cellar worthy red with fruit close to the ground – dark raspberries and brush. Not huge but large enough to satisfy the bigophile. Balanced and polished. Perfect wine with game. What game? AL Wild Card and ribs. At least that what I’m having it with. Go Royals!

Lots of other tastes available too. They have all the usual suspects – icewines, sparkling, pinks. Oh, I forgot the dog. There’s a dog called Brix (picture below). Beautiful Bernese Mountain dog. Just laying around being a farm dog. Each bottle has a neck tag that has a picture of him and it says, “Brix Approved.” I love dogs.

Get Thee To A Winery Near You! And, if you’re doing the Niagara Region, go see Sue-Ann and Brix.

Next Post: New Kids On The Block – Westcott Vineyards

 

brix

Images courtesy of:

http://www.sue-annstaff.com

Previously Unexplored Wineries – Pondview Estate Winery

8 Jan

pondviewfrontI was going to post this before the end of 2013 but I noticed that Pondview Estate Winery will have a booth at the London Wine and Food Show, January 16 – 18. I thought that if I sowed the seed closer to that date, it might encourage you to attend and drop in to see these fine folks. Tell ’em I sent ya. I was at the first iteration of this event and wondered where the wine was but the event has grown and there are a number of Ontario wineries (Lailey, Pondview, Angel’s Gate, among others) and breweries (Muskoka, Fork River). Get tickets here http://www.westernfairdistrict.com/shop/products#WineFood

This is the latest in a series of posts about winery visits to places I’m interested in knowing more about.  The other visits are chronicled here: Colaneri, Kacaba, Megalomaniac.

Last summer (2012) I attended the wedding of my niece in lovely Stratford Ontario. The wedding was great – happy couple, relieved parents, happy-for-a-free-meal relatives – that’s me – and a great setting. The red wine served was one that I hadn’t heard of before – 2010 Pondview Estate Winery Cab/Merlot Reserve. It was perfect for the occasion of an afternoon wedding and a terrace lunch at The Old Prune. I even spoke about the wine in a post.

I checked the shelves at my local and found nary a bottle of their stuff there. Well, it got me thinking, why not read up on this winery and then trundle down to Niagara-On-The-Lake and see what else is happening there.

Pondview Estate Winery is located in the Four Mile Creek Appellation close to the little village of Virgil. Every time I zip through Virgil, I’m singing The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down, by the time I clear the reduced speed zone. Follow? Apparently the appellation gets an abundance of sunshine allowing their Bordeaux varietals to provide a bigger, riper wine.

Pondview is located on Line 2 NOTL. Now, if you’ve purchased a new car with built in navigation (as had we when I tried to find this place), you might have trouble getting your friendly, neutrally accented navigation queen to point you in the right direction. It’s just weird down there (Lines vs. Concessions; paying attention to dozing off due to flat land) and I had a bit of bother finding the place. My fault (and that of the GPS, of course) not theirs. I mean you can see for miles as the topography is quite flat but still – an aging, forgetful wine blogger stumbled about for awhile before I arrived at the winery. Which is somewhat backwards as I usually stumble out, not in – but I stumble responsibly.

Pondview has a newer reception centre (picture above) that has a wide veranda with tables for sitting outside and enjoying the weather as well as the wine. They offer plates of cheese, glasses of wine and nibbles in season – so plan to spend some time. The whole image reminds of the farm stands that I used to frequent as a kid picking up sweet corn or fresh peaches only larger, newer, and a lot better kept – apologies to the Eastmans. It’s really quite charming and inviting. Where’s the pond, you ask? So did I. It’s out back behind the working winery. Once inside, there is a large room with the ubiquitous wine thingees and the Pondview line of wines stacked, ready for purchase. The tasting bar is the central focus of the room. I understand that there is a Barrel and Tank Room that is also used for tastings. Staff, as always in Niagara, are top drawer.

Pondview is a family-run enterprise – a family with a long history of agriculture and viticulture dating back to Italy. Family seemingly present and accounted for when I was there. I was met by Joseph Barbera – Sales Manager. Now, if you’re in my age cadre, you’ll remember Yogi Bear and BooBoo, Huckleberry Hound, Augie Doggie, and Fred Flintstone. These were all productions of Hanna-Barbera – Joseph Barbera, that is. I was a little too self-conscious to point this out to him as HE HAS  PROBABLY HEARD IT A MILLION TIMES BEFORE. Joseph was the perfect host for me – not assuming that I actually knew stuff but not talking down to me either. And passionate about their wine as he should be. The wines are all produced using estate fruit – which means grown by Pondview on their land, in this case, adjacent to the winery itself. Joseph told me that they are planting more acreage to accommodate growth and a broader selection of varietals.

harmonyNow, the wine. Let’s start with their entry level fun red – Harmony Red #336495 $14.95This red fits into the über competitive ‘Ontario Everyday Red’ category. Actually I‘m making that up – there isn’t a ‘category’ per se but you get what I mean. Wait, it’s a ‘niche’? Anyway, the goal is to make a consistent house style, easy drinking red that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. They’ve succeeded in spades with this wine. This wine was the perfect wine to kick off the red tasting – medium bodied, a hint of sweetness but not sugar, and fruit up front. When you visit ask about the label art not just on this range but the Bella Terra as well. Attention to detail that denotes to me – pride in product.

2011-Cab-Merlot-ReserveThe next red I tried was the 2011 edition of the Cab/Merlot above. The 2011 Cabernet Merlot Reserve $19.95 (the 2010 #307561 $18.95 is still available at a few locations of the  mother ship – otherwise, you need to pick this up at the winery itself or with dinner at several restaurants in the area) is a  medium-bodied wine with cherry and some wood being the predominant aromas. It swallows a bit hot and I think could withstand or even benefit from some cellar time or aeration. Good value in my mind and a Niagara red that doesn’t carry the greenness that sometimes distracts me from all the other stuff going on.I’m told that might be the 4 Mile Creek effect.

2011-cab-sauv-RED-bellaterra-smThe premium level for Pondview is their Bella Terra line. The 2011 Bella Terra Cabernet Sauvignon $35.15 is a full-bodied effort. Grapes were picked late in the harvest season (November 6th in this case), cold soaked and in barrel for 19 months. The benefit of not having LCBO volume accountabilities is being able to be patient and they were with this wine.This is a full-bodied ripe wine that proves the statement above that 4 Mile Creek wines are just that – ripe, full reds. But, and this is important, this wine has enough structure – it’s a river not a pool. Stands up doesn’t flop. Lovely cassis, maybe a touch of mint, and some smoky stuff from the wood. Lovely wine. Why pay $35 for a Niagara red? Because you can get this!

2011-BT-ChardAnother Bella Terra wine that I tried was the 2011 Bella Terra Chardonnay $25.25. If you know Arlene, you know that I can wander around tasting wine as long as I bring home some vanilla-y, buttery, full-bodied chardonnay. Arlene didn’t get the memo that oaky chardonnays aren’t fashionable any longer. And, I’m glad for that ’cause I love then too. Less importantly at our house, this wine won the 2013 Chardonnay du Monde bronze medal in France. Not too shabby. I loved the tropical notes both in the bowl and in the mouth – the typical green apple and that Dufton/Berday sought after butterscotch. Don’t read that this wine is cloying and too heavy; it’s not. It has a streak of acidity that sharpens the finish. This is a serious wine. A nice price point for a wine that would go great on the dinner table with creamy seafood dishes, roast chicken, or sour cream and onion potato chips – seriously, that’s a good pairing but probably more the coffee table.

I also tasted Pondview’s 2011 Riesling ($16.20), 2011 Chardonnay ($17.20 – I’d spring for the Bella Terra and I did), the 2010 Vidal Icewine ($25.05 – this was simply exquisite and for a guy that doesn’t like ’em sweet – beautiful! I’ll learn to love it sweet), and the 2010 Bella Terra Meritage ($40.15 – a toss up with the BT Cabernet as best wine). You can order wine from the winery by clicking on the link above. Or, if scrolling is too arduous, click here.

Overall impression is that Pondview has a winning approach to growing their business. I sensed patience and attention to detail. Patience as evidenced by their philosophy of harvesting and releasing wines. Attention to detail in their label art work (I know i already mentioned that mentioned that), the knowledge of their staff, and their reception centre. The art work is very cool – mentioned again.

If you’re in the neighbourhood, don’t just hum The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down as you fly through Virgil, wander down Line 2 (or is it Concession 2?) to Pondview. And, if you’re in London, attend the London Wine and Food Show the weekend of the 16 -18 this month and support Pondview as well as the other Ontario wine and craft beers folks. Yubba-dubba-do.

Previously Unexplored Wineries – Kacaba Vineyards and Winery

14 Jun

nov7 093 (2)I say Ka-ka-ba, they say Ka-sa-ba. Before I visited the Kacaba Vineyards and Winery, I was ready for the story of the discovery, on the current vineyard site, of a native North American winery, as “kakaba” in the Oneida language means winemaker. Small challenge to that story is that ‘Kakaba’ wasn’t a famed Oneida winemaker – nor does it mean anything in Oneida parlance. What I did discover was the name of the founder of Kacaba Vineyards, Michael Kacaba. Apparently, the land was saved from a subdivision that: 1) would have surely increased the assessment base in Vineland; but, 2) would have destroyed this lovely small lot winery. So, if you are a Vineland resident and rue the taxes you pay, it’s Michael Kacaba’s fault. But, if you’re a wine lover celebrate the fact that there aren’t any backsplits ruining this vineyard. I’m going with number 2.

Kacaba www.kacaba.com sits west of Vineland just off King Street (County Road 81). It’s got tons of signage on the road but still might be missed as the winery itself is tucked up over a hill so not visible from the road. I arrived on a big sky, sunny day just before the long weekend – cool but sunny. My last two visits to wineries had the distinct disadvantage of poor weather. I mean potholes, mud, and cold. This was a big upgrade. Memo to Duffswines Management – visit wineries in the summer and fall. You approach the winery building over a simple bridge (a Bailey bridge?) and it has creaks and groans which is kind of endearing. The vineyard that lies adjacent to the winery building is mounded and it all seems like a little tucked away niche in the surrounding area. Not exactly La Tâche but still you feel somewhat surrounded, closed in, which I was told contributes to a bit of an ecosystem for the vines. I didn’t actually whistle, sing, or skip as I extricated myself from my vehicle (closed circuit cameras and youtube being what they are) but felt pretty upbeat and ready to swirl, sip, and spit (well, maybe no spitting).

The winery (picture above – courtesy of the winery) is a nifty little red and white building that’s sparkling and presents as simple and inviting. And, inviting it was – I was welcomed by Holly and Sasha. I’ve said it before but will risk saying it again, “the winery staff in Niagara are engaging and informed. Ready to talk your ear off about their wines or just let you quietly go about your business.” This is a real tribute to the industry’s growth and sophistication, and, in this case, to Holly and Sasha themselves.

So, what to taste? I tried a bunch on staff’s suggestion but want to focus on just three for this post. Given it might as well be summer already, the first is the 2011 Rebecca Rosé @$14.95. This has a sweeter profile than the Tavels and Provence wines that I have been pushing. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more residual sugar but it’s heavier, rounder somehow. Now, that said, I loved it! It was like drinking a tart strawberry and rhubarb pie – the earthiness and fruit of the strawberries and the tartness on the finish of rhubarb. I brought a few back home for days on the dock – maybe late in the day particularly with food.

Moving on and stopping at their 2011 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay @22.95. In my home, chardonnay rules the white wine roost and oaky, buttery ones have ultimate status. If I even think of splurging on a wine pour moi (see Cab Franc below), I better include some consideration of one of these chardonnays for Arlene. Along those lines, this wine did not disappoint. It had all the requisite creaminess but still had some backbone – enough acid and fruit to carry this wine. I might even suggest that it could age a bit. And, that means more than one!

Several months ago I posted on a Kacaba pinot noir. and, the reds at Kacaba seem to be attracting much loftier attention as evidenced by their many awards, including, drum roll please………….a gold just this year, from Decanter – the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Franc. Well, I’m not talking about that vintage except to say that I thought it was really closed and inaccessible for an amateur like me – in the years ahead, I’m trusting that the medal was well earned – just too soon for me to tell what things might become. I did try the 2007 Reserve Cabernet Franc @$44.95 as well. This wine is no slouch in the accolades department winning at Cuvee in 2011. Now, the 2007 wine is accessible – still maybe benefiting some time in bottle, glass or decanter to get maximum enjoyment; but, I’m loving it now. Cabernet Franc does well in Niagara for a reason I’ll leave for another post (read: I have no idea why) and may be the best Bordeaux varietal to go solo from here. The 2007 had a ton of spiciness and dirty fruit that might put some people off but not me. I’m going to put this down below until at least 2015 to see what develops.

nov7 111 (2)“Why do we go to wineries, Bill?” Well, we go to wineries for the experience of seeing where our wines are from, talking to people involved in making them/dedicated to the task of crafting wine, and hearing the story of the place. Kacaba is a great experience on all those levels. Staff enthuisiastic and knowledgeable about their stuff. The tasting room is small but bright and you’d get the feeling that you’re not one of the hordes. I got that feeling because, well, I was the only one there, nary a single horde in sight! I’ll go out on a limb and say that they don’t have tour buses. They have a semi-covered patio (picture at left) where you can buy by the glass and enjoy with artisanal cheese trays. Sitting out among the vines, sipping the wines and nibbling cheeses procured from Upper Canada Cheese down the road. How cool is that? And, being up over the hill isolates the experience from any road noise or dust. I’m going to make a point of stopping in there again and suggest that, if you’re doing the Vineland area, you do the same. You might even see the legendary ghost of the eponymous Oneida winemaker.

Previously Unexplored Wineries Part Deux – Colaneri Estate Winery

18 Apr

colaneriSince my next Daily Slosh post will feature wines using the recioto, appassimento, and ripasso techniques, I thought I’d mention, in advance, my trip to a newer and exciting winery in Niagara on the St. David’s Bench. I won’t get in to the methods themselves because we can all Google. Plus most of you guys have as much, if not more, experience with them than me. So, to the winery we go.

When we decided to venture to the Colaneri Estate Winery (photograph above by Fred Couch), I have to say that I hadn’t heard much about it. Their wines are mostly available at the road side or on-line and reviews seem to concentrate on readily available wines. Shows that I have to work harder. Colaneri is located beneath Sir Issac Brock’s glare. He’s actually facing the other direction but he’s close by, you can feel him – spooky. As you approach this winery from Concession 6, you might think that you’re arriving at a large Italian villa located amidst a vineyard. The façade is striking (picture above – doesn’t quite do it justice). It’s hard to believe that it’s not just a façade but it houses real functional buildings; event rooms, tasting rooms, and the working winery itself. It is really cool. Great story about their family here.

Upon arriving through the big wooden door to the tasting area, Arlene and I were met with the smell of garlic and rosemary and friendly greetings. I thought that it was out of place, the garlic and rosemary that is, until I was told that mother was cooking Sunday dinner. OK, I’ll selfishly admit that I thought that we should have been invited. What better way to taste wine than to do it amid the smells of home cooking? It made us feel at home.

The Colaneri family dries their harvested grapes for most of their wines before squishing them or uses the ripasso method and adds the must from one wine to another to add some funk and muscle. I never imagined that this would be a good strategy in Ontario but that shows you what I know. What this does for my experience is concentrate the flavours and lend an air of maturity to the wines. Let me first explain that the wines are not named after varietals. Most names have something to do with the family’s history and Italian culture. And the labels – as well connected to the family – require an explanation. Very cool and in today’s wine culture of varietal names and nonsense labels, requires some courage. I’ll speak about our two favourite wines.

paeseThe 2009 Paese $27.95, Chardonnay – ‘paese’ meaning, in this case, home or hometown. Although many of their white wines use either the recioto or appassimento methods (sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, pinot grigio, Gewurztraminer), the chardonnay is made traditionally. Its fruit is intense on the nose (more intense than most Ontario chardonnay IMHO) and is delivered with a more tropical theme – not Tommy Bahama shirt tropical (style) but Dole tropical (substance). The oak aging is front and centre, the style loved by Arlene; meaning we went home with a few of these babies. I think this would benefit (more nuanced and together) from some time under the stairs but it is great now too. Let’s see how long they last.

insiemeThe 2009 Insieme $34.95. I believe it means ‘together’ and has Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. This wine uses the appassimento method and is a leathery, full-bodied beauty with dried fruits a la Amarone although not quite the elevated alcohol. A Jimmy Durante nose that carries almost all the stuff you’re about to taste. Perfect with a meal of roast red meat (think I’d choose lamb – was it lamb that mother was cooking?) with vegetables that were cooked alongside the roast. Drinks great now but could also cellar.

You can purchase at the winery, on-line www.colaneriwines.com or by phone 905-682-2100. They tell me they’ll deliver to your door! Or join their wine club 

Get out to Colaneri the next time you’re doing a winery crawl in Niagara! And, remember: Crawl Responsibly!

Previously Unexplored Wineries – Megalomaniac Wines

15 Apr

megalomaniacI took a wander to Niagara a month and half ago.. Well, technically just the Vineland, Beamsville  area. I decided to live vicariously as Cuvée 2013 was being held in Niagara Falls over the weekend and I wasn’t attending. I’ve been through the area a bunch and always tend to stop in to my favourites – Tawse, Malivoire, Thirty Bench, Daniel Lenko and the other usual suspects that you’ll find in my musings. So, this time, I was determined to accomplish three things 1) see some of the wineries that I’ve heard a lot about but not visited, 2) try and spit more, drink less, and if that fails drive the back roads to get home. We won’t comment on number 2 – it’s a policy here never to comment on number 2. Oh, and 3) have lunch at On The Twenty in Jordan. Superb! I’ll introduce a couple of these wineries over the next few weeks.

Megalomaniac Winery is perched on a hill over-looking sleeping vines and seasonal mud and brutal potholes. Word to ownership – gravel for next year. I mean it should still be a farm but smoother. I was driving the battered, yet determined, VW Passat up, up, (did I say it was muddy?) and up again finally arriving at a very cool (as in ‘dope’ and chilly) stone underground winery (picture above). All kidding aside, they have created a very special reception and tasting area underground – tasteful and unique as is their marketing approach and their wines. As always, I asked to sample what they were most proud of and the young woman (why are Niagara wineries replete with lovely, knowledgeable, and incredibly friendly staff? Or, am I just easy?) suggested a few wines but I’m going to concentrate on just a couple.

2011 Megalomaniac Eccentric Savagnin ($28.95) That’s not a typo despite my spellcheck underline. Savagnin is a French white grape grown most commonly in Jura. Haven’t heard of it? Well, clearly not cramming for a Masters of Wine or WSET exam. I, myself, had to Wiki it 215px-Côtes-du-jura_blanc_1997to see that the savagnin grape has a “rather unstable genome.” Who writes this stuff and someone make them stop? This wine smelled like gewürtztraminer (not spice but floral) and felt a bit like a chardonnay in my mouth as suggested by host. Although dry, it has that viognier way of making you think its a bit off-dry. It’s probably just the persistence of flavour. It comes in an oddly shaped bottle reminiscent of cognac – just like it commonly does in Jura (image courtesy of Wikipedia). Is it good? You bet. Hardy enough to stand up to a meal of your choosing and if you’re fussy, I’d suggest creamy-herby chicken something or other. Give this wine a look see if you’re into fuller-bodied white wines. Plus, just think of the commotion the grape name will cause. “Don’t you mean Soveeneyawn, Bill?” “Why, no, I’m too cool for that common grape.”

2011 Megalomaniac Big Mouth Merlot ($24.95). I’ve always detected a green thing within the aromas/flavours of wines made from red Bordeaux varietals grown in Ontario? Especially, if it’s a straight up one varietal wine. Maybe with the exception of some cabernet franc, now that I’m thinking about it. Well, I’m trying to understand and embrace the green rather than bitch about it. Hold me accountable. This wine is right-sized for most everyone’s taste. If you’re looking big as in the name – I’m not finding it. Now, that’s not bad to me – that’s good in the case of this wine. Cherries…insert another red fruit of your choosing…. and a hint of green pepper (which I’m trying to embrace?) that works for this medium bodied wine. Have to say that I loved it – particularly the absence of heavy stand-alone oak – it’s well integrated. Really loved it! To borrow an overused phrase in wine writing – this would be a “crowd-pleaser”. Standing and walking around or burgers requiring several bottles at least – bonus.

The labels are neat too. Based on the work of Rene Magritte.

Resolution – visit Megalomaniac again later this spring on my Niagara tour. Road dry and smooth. You can order wines through their website https://www.megalomaniacwine.com/secure_order.php .

Some available at LCBO search here www.vintages.com for availability.

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