Eating & Drinking

Wine Picks: Chill Out

Ontario’s Nifty 2008 Whites

By David Lawrason
Illustration: Emily Chen

ONTARIO’S WHITE WINES ARE GAINING STATURE with every passing season. They have an energy and a fragrance that taps into the sap-stirring feelings we northerners experience every spring. This was never truer than with the 2008 vintage now on the shelves. Reset your body clock to the summer of 2008 — the warm and wet one (2009 was cold and wet). All that humidity, including the tail end of a hurricane or two in September, meant that grape growers had to be extra vigilant to remove leaves so that wind and warmth could fan away mildew and stoke more ripeness in the berries. The sunless conditions delayed ripening, although Niagara and Prince Edward County did breathe a sigh of relief with a warmer, drier October. In the end, 2008 turned out to be a challenge for the later-ripening reds but delivered nifty whites with all kinds of zesty acidity. I actually found many of them too tart when they were first released last spring/summer, but now, after a winter in the bottle, they are settling down and filling out. Here is a fine selection, either on the shelves of the LCBO or from the wineries. And in very much the same spirit, if not from the 2008 vintage, we include two new Prince Edward County sparkling wines —  another style as buoyant as a spring day —  showing magnificent promise for Ottawa’s backyard wine region.

PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY

Huff Estate 2006 Cuvée Peter L. Huff
$39.95 • Prince Edward County • 91 points

This is very exciting! Made 100 percent from County-grown chardonnay aged three years on its lees, this is a fine follow-up to Huff’s historic 2004 — the County’s first sparkling wine. The nose is terrific, with almond, cream, brioche, and lemon and apple pastry scents. It is very well integrated and light-bodied, with a very fine mousse. Though a touch sweet toward the finish, it possesses classic champagne-like tension and surprising length. Available through the winery. www.huffestates.com.

The Grange of Prince Edward 2007 Brut
$29.95 • Prince Edward County • 90 points

The debut sparkler from “The Grange” has heads nodding about the potential of sparkling wine in the County. It has the minerality and the flavour depth of French champagne, undoubtedly due to the limestone soils in which both regions are rooted. This combines pinot noir and chardonnay, aged two years on the lees. It is light but has great tension and ping, with a juicy, dry, mouth-watering finish and excellent length. In the world of fine fizz, it’s very good value, as well. Available through the winery. www.thegrangewines.com.

Norman Hardie 2008 Chardonnay Unfiltered
$35 • Ontario • 88 points

Hardie makes a County chardonnay, as well as this one from Niagara fruit. This is the better of the two in 2008, with just a bit more richness in this leaner vintage. It is a fine-pointed chardonnay with classic smoky, buttery notes well integrated with fresh apple-peach fruit, plus chive and flint that will recede with more bottle age. It’s medium-weight, taut yet tender, with smoky oak and a mouth-watering finish. Excellent length. Available through the winery. www.normanhardie.com.

Black Prince 2008 Terroir Chardonnay
$29.75 I Prince Edward County I 86 points

This is pricey for the quality it delivers but gets a nod for two reasons. It is the first Prince Edward County wine aged in barrels made from Prince Edward County oak — thus the “total terroir” experience touted on the back label. I also really like the strict “County” tension. But the oak does overpower the fruit at this stage, so be ready to serve with grilled fish and poultry. Very good to excellent length. And I suspect it will age through 2013. www.blackprincewinery.com.

NIARGARA

Tawse 2008 Wismer Vineyard Lakeview Block Reisling
$25.10 • Twenty Mile Bench • 92 points

This monumental riesling perfectly weaves that magical thin line between sweetness and acidity, with moderate 11 percent alcohol adding finesse. Expect opulent, intense aromas of pineapple, honey, minerality, and some typical riesling petrol, with an interesting back note of peach pie. It’s medium-weight and firm, with a hint of sweetness (back label declares it’s off-dry). Terrific juicy and lemony acidity on the finish. Excellent length. Available at the winery (www.tawsewinery.ca) or through www.winerytohome.com.

Cave Spring 2008 Riesling Estate
$17.95 • Beamsville Bench • 90 points

A great value wine and a great example of the character of the 2008 vintage applied to older vines and taking into account a generation of experience at Cave Spring with Niagara’s benchmark grape. The nose is reserved but complex, with classic petrol, honey, grapefruit, lime, and a spearmint undertone. It’s light and lively, yet solid; does a little dance on the tongue before settling into a very long, stony, mouth-watering finish. Excellent length. Vintages Essentials 230277.

Ravine Vineyard 2008 Chardonnay Reserve
$38 • Niagara Peninsula • 90 points

From the newest Niagara hot spot, Ravine Vineyard is a spectacular property in the warm St. Davids appellation, with ex-VQA chair Peter Gamble giving winemaking direction. The place and the wine ooze refinement. This is a slim, savoury, complex chardonnay with cashew, smoky-peaty oak, pear, and lime peel. It’s creamy, silky, warm, and spicy with a very long finish. Available through the winery. www.ravinevineyard.com.

Lailey Vineyard 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
$20 • Niagara River • 89 points

This is a stylish, crisp, and complete sauvignon refined through judicious oak aging. All very subtle and fine, with fresh herbs, gooseberry, citrus, and very light smoke and spice on the nose. It’s light-to-medium-bodied, with some creaminess and a crisp finish. Think of white bordeaux and a fine dinner setting with herb-accented fish or poultry. Available at the winery (www.laileyvineyard.com) or through www.winerytohome.com.

Walker Hall 2008 Manor House Pinot Blanc
$17.95 • Niagara Peninsula • 89 points

Niagara’s best pinot blanc to date is from an ambitious start-up employing winemaking consultants from the Collio region, which straddles the Slovenia/Italy border. For the first time, an Ontario pinot blanc has reminded me of a good B.C. rendition. This is fresh and vibrant yet comfy, with fresh white apple, vanilla, and light spice. It shows good depth in a crisp yet expansive style. LCBO 155572.

Coyote’s Run 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay
$14.95 • Niagara Peninsula • 88 points

This fine, very good value example manages to capture chardonnay’s natural richness and smoothness without oak embellishment. Fresh apple aromas mingle with warmed bread and honey notes. Its almost silky texture is underpinned by fine acidity, youthful spritz, and some alcohol heat on the finish. Very good length. LCBO 26740.

Reprinted from the April/May 2010 issue. Prices current at that time.