February 20, 2009




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Cuvée 2009
Ontario winemakers
whoop it up once again

It's the winemaker's chance to get even. While wine judgings are usually peppered with experts, next Friday's annual Cuvée Gala fundraising event is a celebration of Ontario wines as determined by the winemakers themselves. Eschewing trial by wine critic, some 41 participating winemakers were broken up into a number of panels, which tasted some 190 wines from some 52 participating wineries.

To say that the Cuvée award winners are Ontario's "best" isn’t quite right. First, less than half of Ontario wineries participated and almost all were in the Niagara Peninsula. Second, each winery was limited to entering only three VQA non-general list items - all of which will be available for sale at the winery store by Saturday, February 28. Third, wineries could submit a general list red and white, but only the single best general list red and white will be featured at Cuvée.

Next week’s Cuvée Gala will be most enjoyable with some 154 wines to taste, along with special treats from some of the top local chefs (to see the list of wines – click here, to see participating chefs – click here). It takes place at the Fallsview Casino Resort.  While one has to shell out $200 to attend, the proceeds go to the Niagara Community Foundation. Attendees will receive a charitable tax receipt for $125 along with a Cuvée en Route Passport (which normally costs $30) for various special weekend tasting events taking place at 43 wineries (Friday through Sunday). To see what wines are being featured at each venue click here. The good news is that FBTI Supporters can save $25 and buy tickets at only $175 by calling 905-684-8688. Make sure that you mention FBTI while placing your order.

The final Cuvée results will be announced at 6:30 pm at next Friday’s Cuvée event. I will send you the results as soon as they are released. In the meantime, here are some top picks from a preview tasting. I was, by the way, the only wine columnist prepared to assess all the wines blind.  My two top sparkling wines were Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catherine Brut (released in Vintages in December and still available at $29.95) and Maleta 2006 Estate View Old Vines Brut (winery only at $27.95). Best Riesling (4 presented) Tawse 2007 Sketches of Niagara Riesling (released in Vintages on August 16 and still available at $18.20). Best Gewurztraminer (4 presented) was Calamus 2007 Gewürztraminer (winery only at $15.20). The top Viognier (only one presented) was Creekside 2007 Viognier Reserve (winery only at $24.95). Top Chardonnay (8 presented) Peller Estates Signature Series 2007 Chardonnay Sur Lie (winery only at $30.20) and Cattail Creek Estate 2007 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay (winery only at $19.20).

In terms of reds, of six Pinot Noir presented, my favourite and best buy was Flat Rock Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir (a Vintages Essential at $19.95). It rated ** (out of three stars) in my Vintages Essentials Report in the December 20th issue of Vintage Assessments (click here to see). My tasting note reads: Ambering light red colour. Ripe red cherry nose with hints of vanilla. Dry, medium-light bodied, bright, plummy cranberry flavours with a lingering finish. Well-balanced and ready to drink with a subtle hint of cedar. Perfect with salmon and turkey. Screwcap closure.

Of three Cabernet Franc, the best was Thirty Bench Small 2006 Lot Cabernet Franc (winery only at $35.20). I found many of the reds to be acceptable, but not all that exciting. As I have only previewed a third of the wines being poured, I am sure there are some definite undiscovered gems.

I will be presenting some additional recommendations and a list of which Cuvée en Route wineries you should visit in my Wednesday, February 25th Liquid Assets update. In the meantime check out Wine Awards Canada 2008 Ontario Award Winners:

To see the 2008 winning wines sorted by type Click Here
To see the 2008 winning wines sorted by winery Click Here

Our compilation of awards from all four competitions is now complete: 20 from Cuvée (gold awards only), 72 from the Ontario Wine Awards, 73 from the All Canadian Wine Championship and 112 recently announced awards (representing 44% of the total) from the Canadian Wine Awards. The number of awards given was down from the previous year. There were 300 in total, which translates into 272 award-winners with only 27 items or 10% receiving multiple awards. This year only one wine Pelee Island 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon received a medal in three of the four competitions: a gold, a silver and a bronze. Only two wines Niagara College 2006 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay and Jackson-Triggs Proprietor’s Grand Reserve 2006 White Meritage received two golds. What is always surprising is the lack of consensus. Of course, many of the better wines were not entered because producers feared receiving low scores - ie. a bronze medal for a highly priced, icon brand. Also, there is no point entering a wine if it will no longer available when the results are published – often months later. In addition, these competitions tend to be expensive and can be tied in with requisite advertising, meaning that some small, but highly respected, producers refuse to participate. Last but not least, keep in mind that most of the top award winners are no longer available.

Coming Up: don’t miss the upcoming ViniPortugal Annual Trade Tasting, which will be open to all interested restaurant and wine trade, wine education students, journalists etc. Held at Art Gallery of Ontario, Baillie Court, from 2:30 to 6:00 pm on Thursday, February 26th. Three-dozen producers will be showing some 331 wines. To attend call William Delgado at 416-921-0259 - click here to see the invitation.


Best Valentine Buys
Vintages February 14 release

Tomorrow’s Vintages February 14th Release features a whopping 137 releases including 12 In-Store Discoveries. This is the best Vintages South Africa Red thematic to date and it features 18 selections. There is also a Valentine’s Day selection featuring 11 items.

Dealing with the South African wines first, don’t miss their sole sparkler Graham Beck Brut (593483) a bargain at $18.95. This Méthode Cap Classique received a rating **+ (out of ***+) and is made in the Champagne-style being a blend of 54% Chardonnay and 46% Pinot Noir. Medium light yellow in colour, it has a very pleasant, honeyed, ripe lemon-melon-apricot nose with some toasty notes. On the palate it is dry and well balanced with gently honeyed, ripe lemon, melon and red apple flavours accompanied by very good effervescence and length. Note that 30% of the blend was fermented in 205 litre barrels giving the wine extra structure and complexity. It’s the best example they have ever shipped to Canada.

There are only two whites from South Africa. The one to go for is Delheim 2007 Sur Lie Chardonnay (956219) at $17.95. It comes from the WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch region and, considering the reasonable price, received an extremely high **/**+ rating. It has a light yellow colour and complex, intense, spicy, lemony, toasty, hazelnut nose. On the palate it is dry, bright and medium to medium-full bodied with ripe lemon meringue flavours and a lingering, toasty finish. Much improved over previous shipments.

There are a surprising number of fine South African reds worth buying. My top choice is and best buy of the release is 2008 Café Culture Pinotage (72710) at $13.95. This Western Cape *** wonder has 14% alcohol and gobs of smoky black cherry & coffee. It has a very deep intense purple colour and a rich, smoky, complex, black cherry nose with maple syrup, mocha notes. On the palate it is fairly dry and well structured with very juicy, slightly smoky, plummy, black cherry flavours along with a long, slightly sweet, finish. Delicious! The recommended best buy 2007 (***) was released on August 2, 2008 at $13.95 and sold out in just a few days. Sadly this is the last effort of renowned Pinotage winemaker Bertus Fourie who left KWV on May 1, 2008. There are only 350 cases so move quickly – very quickly – today Friday, February 13.

Considering how hard good Pinotage is to find, I was almost in shock to discover that there should be two additional **+ best buy releases to choose from. Also extremely good and well priced is Delheim 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (981357) at $16.95, which received a **/**+ rating. It has a spicy, slightly smoky, ripe plum nose and is dry, medium bodied and well structured on the palate with ripe plum flavours and a slightly cedary finish. A big improvement - much riper and harmonious - when compared to earlier releases.

If you are looking for a great **+/*** white Burgundy value, don’t miss Maison Champy 2006 Pernand-Vergelesses (8151) at $29.95. It has a rather seductive, intense, complex, rather cedary, key-lime pie nose. On the palate, it is dry, well structured and medium to medium-full bodied with fairly toasty, ripe lemon and key lime pie flavours along with a lingering, crisp, mineral-tinged finish. Let it breath for an hour before consuming.

From Germany’s Rheinhessen, I loved the organic Baron Heyl Estate 2005 Riesling (89573) at only $17.95. It rated **/**+ and has an intense, spicy, honeyed, mineral-tinged, floral, lemon meringue nose. On the palate, it’s just off dry and quite well structured, with honeyed, lemon meringue flavours and a lingering, caramel-tinged finish. With 21 mg/L of free sulphur, it shows good versatility and is ready to enjoy.

Last but not least, is a very tasty blush surprise from Portugal. With only 9.5% alcohol, Adega Coop Ponte da Barca’s 2007 Vinho Verde Rosé (94995) at $14.95 rates a very decent *+/**. Light reddish pink in colour, the nose is very juicy, spicy and honeyed with loads of ripe strawberry purée. Just off dry, it is light to medium-light bodied with spicy, dried ripe strawberry flavours and lingering finish. Drink up and enjoy. 

Portuguese wine fans should plan the upcoming ViniPortugal Annual Trade Tasting, which will be open to all interested restaurant and wine trade, wine education students, journalists etc. Held at Art Gallery of Ontario, Baillie Court, from 2:30 to 6:00 pm on Thursday, February 26th. For details call William Delgado at 416-921-0259 or click here to see the invitation.