Tag Archives: Norman Hardie

#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/

gilead3

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/

Holiday Advice – Part Deux

19 Dec

Last year I featured Bing and Bowie as an awkward couple. This year I thought we’d examine another unusual pairing. Think about it. Arguably the best female voice of all time and the guy who gave us Delilah – a song about an angry man stabbing his g/f in a fit of rage. Talk amongst yourselves.

This is the second part of three posts offering some recommendations for wines a little out of the ‘daily’ range. The first installment can be read here.

Pinot Noir

gravityPinot Noir may be the most personal of all wines. Some like them lean and under the tank top – muscular, others like ’em softer and round. I’m in the first camp. So, here goes. In Ontario, there are many great local pinots. You could start with 2012 Flat Rock Cellars ‘Gravity’ Pinot Noir #1560 $29.95 an earthy, darker-than-pinot, fruitful wine. Bigger on the nose than usual for this wine – probably 2012 showing through. Lovely wine. Another Ontario gem is any pinot by hardiepnNorman Hardie. Prince Edward County, Norman Hardie in particular, instills a very different take on pinot than Niagara. The 2011 Norman Hardie Unfiltered Pinor Noir #125310 $39.00 is a cherry tea stained long drink of pinot. What does it remind me of? Earl Grey tea – it’s tea alright but not the same. This is pinot but not the same as pinot. Complicated but worth getting to know. I’m heading to The County in the New Year and can’t wait to visit some of their exciting wineries.

Oregon has a very classic take on pinot. Lovely stuff. But, we are disadvantaged with limited selection. I couldn’t find any that had anything but a scattered availability in the province. I read other bloggers that talk about the breadth of choice they have with Pinot Noir in America. Alas, we have many more Burgundy available – which means we can go broke early and often. However, a non-Sonoma ‘go to’ calerapinot for me is Calera – which we do have. The 2012 Calera Pinot Noir #933044 $33.95 is a great introduction to a world of California pinot that isn’t ‘one-dimensional’ like the lower priced entries seem to be. I find you need to stretch the budget a bit particularly with pinots. Calera has several single vineyard offerings too that we get each year – the Jensen Vineyard being my fave and a wine that you don’t want to open because it just gets better and better with time. The one above is their entry level and is ripe, red fruity, earthy, and very accessible. Good value.

rdbgcIf you prefer a more Burgundian take and you don’t want to get a second mortgage, I’d suggest a bargain cru – Beaune Teurons 1er Cru. I call it my ‘Go To Cru Crew’. But, I see that there are but a few available. Another time. So, what to splurge on? Well, the 2012 Roche de Bellene Vieilles Vignes Gevrey-Chambertin #240242 $56.95 is dark and a bit wild but easy to understand, if that makes sense. I bought a couple and mistakenly opened one right away to find, as I knew that I would, that it wasn’t ready for prime time. Duh. Buy this for someone that has or is building a cellar.

akaruaAnd no, I didn’t forget New Zealand pinot. There are a bunch but let’s get some focus. The 2012 Akarua Pinot Noir #79541 $37.95 is a lovely Central Otago pinot. It’s not shy with red fruits and a lovely seam of acidity. Extremely food friendly. Go ahead and splurge on this one. Low risk – high reward. The minty, herbiness would match a sage turkey perfectly. I think that I’ve just talked myself into it. Damn, I hate when that happens.

Pinot recap – all but Roche de Bellene ready to drink and all good matches for turkey dinner.

I headed up these sections by varietal. But, I probably should have simply provided some whites, reds, rosés and bubblies instead of going the varietal route. Well, live and learn. At least tying Chardonnay to Pinot Noir makes some sense. Right?

Chardonnay

mersoleilOaky chards don’t get a lot of love these days. But, I still like them if there’s some balance and I don’t have to pull slivers of oak out of my tongue. A biggerish Chardonnay is the 2011 Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay #958975 $34.95. It is decadent (so, delete the “ish” above) with a hint of butter and some citrus on the nose but pure tropical fruit and butterscotch in the mouth and on the finish. We like the buttery ones here and this is a staple down below – that would be my basement. It works with creamy chicken stuff and the turkey if it’s not a spicy treatment but more trad. If you want to buy local, pick up the 2011 Tawse Daniel Lenko Vineyard tawsedlchardonnayChardonnay #344796 $44.95. This is made with grapes from the old vines at Daniel Lenko. I’ll tell the story of my visit to Daniel Lenko another time. Suffice it to say, the place is unique among the array of wineries on the bench. Blend Lenko’s grapes with the Burgundian leanings of Tawse and you get a Chardonnay that’s a bit more Old School than the one above. Pure tropical fruit and apples on the nose joined with some of the oak induced butter and vanilla in the mouth – a mineral echo on the finish. Love it. The Mer Soleil is Janis Joplin; the Tawse – Joan Osborne. Both great styles – substantial, full of flavour and nuance, just different.

Classic white Burgundy is around but scattered availability. It can be pricy. If you want to partake of the classic Burgundian Chardonnay, I’d suggest two approaches: Chablis (minerally, stony and crisper – lovely stuff – look for 2010) and Meursault (a little rounder, nuttier, and deeper – pricier as well). I haven’t tasted any of those that I see on-line and, frankly, there aren’t many. Ask a consultant at the store for advice if this is your leaning.

Now, I’m off to The Morrissey for a craft beer (or two). Have a great weekend!

Part Three: first of next week

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