TASTING NOTES: Prince Edward County Wines Rarely Seen at LCBO
Eating & Drinking

TASTING NOTES: Prince Edward County Wines Rarely Seen at LCBO


(Originally published in OTTAWA Magazine, Summer 2014)

125310 Norman Hardie#6459D7

Prince Edward County has been shaking off a scary winter. Grape growers were crossing fingers (and toes) that their tender vinifera (European) vines, anchored in the limestone bedrock on the shores of Lake Ontario west of Kingston, would survive below -23 C, since vinifera vines can give up the ghost at that temperature. But County vintners have become accustomed to the painstaking practice of “hilling up” — as it sounds, the process involves burying trunks within insulating earth. So things may work out.  By the time you visit this summer, the verdict will be in.

And visit you should — and make it a long weekend. Once there, your days will decelerate to a crawl and you won’t want to leave. There are now about 30 wineries to tether you to what has become one of the most interesting, idiosyncratic wine regions in North America — just two and a half hours from Ottawa. Furthermore, the towns of Picton, Bloomfield, and Wellington are replete with fine, comfortable, and non-ostentatious restaurants, galleries, and craft and antique shops. Can you really just drive past a store called Dead People’s Stuff?

But back to wine. You will experience the first reds from 2012 — a vintage that may prove to be the best yet — as well as some 2010s, a close runner-up.  These include primarily pinot noirs, with cabernet franc and gamay (Beaujolais’ grape) showing prowess. The 2012s will include the barrel-fermented and/or barrel-aged chardonnays. Watch 2013 vintages for the good lighter whites — the pinot gris and rieslings — that are now trickling out of the vats and into bottles.

Having tasted many of the new releases, I offer the following as guidance to the wineries offering the most thoughtful wines. As you head out to taste for yourself, pack lightly to leave room in the hatchback for wines that you will rarely see for sale at the LCBO.


2012DogHouseWhiteCCThree Dog Winery 2012 Dog House Vidal Riesling
$12.95 I Ontario I 87 Points
As you drive from Ottawa, this new winery will be your first temptation over the bridge off Highway 49. It’s predicated on inexpensive, easy wines, which are rare in the County. This blend works, with pear, lemon, and stony aromas and flavours in a light, fresh veneer. Good tension and length. Vidal is a hybrid variety (i.e., not Euro vinifera), so Ontario’s uptight regulators don’t allow it to be labelled Prince Edward County.
Fish Lake Road, Demorestville

Rosehall Run Defiant 2012 Pinot Gris    
$18.95 I Prince Edward County I 89 Points
Rosehall Run is a must-visit. They make generous, elegant, and likeable wines from A to Z.  Pinot gris (a.k.a. pinot grigio in Italy) is a lightweight amid serious pinots and chardonnays, but this vintage is showing ripe fig, honey, and bread-crust notes mindful of some Alsatian examples. Medium-weight and fleshy, yet firm on the finish. Delicious!
LCBO 307769
Greer Road, Hillier

Keint-He 2012 Portage Chardonnay
$20 I Prince Edward County I 91 Points
This bottle offers great value, with a beautifully made chardonnay from a Wellington winery with three vineyards near Hillier, which is considered the County’s epicentre. It comes across like a fine Macon, perhaps even Pouilly-Fuissé, from France. The nose is reserved but nicely balances fruit, honey, and spice. It’s mid-weight, fresh, and smooth, with some tail-end firmness and County minerality. Portage 2011 Pinot is also very good.
LCBO 374819
Loyalist Parkway, Wellington

Stanners 2012 Chardonnay
$25 I Prince Edward County I 88 Points
Colin Stanners and his son, Cliff — both former scientists — direct an idiosyncratic, engaging range of County classics within the thick walls of a straw-insulated winery in the hamlet of Hillier. A touch of fried onion and garlic on the nose is accompanied by notes of lemon, apple, and toast. Overall nicely complex; very firm and mouth-watering, with excellent length. Stanners is also strong on pinot and cabernet franc.
Station Road, Hillier


Hinterland 2011 Rosé Method Traditional  
$37 I Prince Edward County I 90 Points
Jonas Newman and Vicki Samaras have turned a dairy barn into the hub of the exciting sparkling-wine scene. Bubbles are all they do, and all are made with great care. This is the most Champagne-like, with a faintly salmon-coloured pinot-noir-based sparkler that is taut as a piano wire, with well-integrated and subtle floral, raspberry, and mineral flavours.
Closson Road, Hillier


Huff 2012 Gamay     
$24.95 I Ontario I 89 Points
Gamay — the Beaujolais grape — has a big future in Ontario. This edition contains Niagara fruit, but it is so nicely rendered that I could not resist including it. It is very pretty, fresh, and juicy, yet firm, with cherry-strawberry, a touch of pepper, and minerality. Huff’s French winemaker, Frédéric Picard, is doing consistently great work across the range. A top inn and gallery are also on-site. County Road 1, Bloomfield

Norman Hardie 2012 County Unfiltered
Pinot Noir
$35 I Prince Edward County I 91 Points
The most famous, hardworking, and experienced County winemaker deserves his County-defining cred. This charming, lively pinot shows fragrant raspberry and sour cherry fruit buttressed by florals, oak smoke, toast, and vaguely meaty corned-beef notes. Complex, with a juicy, mouth-watering edge and minerality. Also excellent chardonnay, riesling, and cab franc.
LCBO Vintages 125310
Greer Road, Hillier


Lighthall 2010 Pinot Noir
$25 I Prince Edward County I 89 Points
Ottawa’s Glenn Symons bought the almost famous Lighthall vineyard in the County’s extreme (and warmer) south, near the village of Milford. He is very much on my radar for sparklers, whites, and reds. This mid-weight, firm, dry, and maturing pinot has a subtly complex nose of sour cherry, evergreen forest floor, wet stone, even a hint of lakeshore. Good structure and intensity, but dry and lean too.
Lighthall Road, Milford

Casa-Dea 2010 Cabernet Franc
$18.95 I Prince Edward County I 89 Points
Casa-Dea owns some of the oldest vines in the County, and talented winemaker Paul Battilana is creating a range of very good-value, well-balanced sparklers, whites, and reds. This is a very pretty and spry cab franc — not dynamo, but very even and restrained, with cran-raspberry, tobacco, twiggy, and almost wet slate aromas and flavours.
Greer Road, Hillier


SCORES David Lawrason assigns scores on a 100-point scale. They reflect a wine’s overall quality. A rating of 95 to 100 is outstanding; 90 to 94 excellent; 86 to 89 very good; 80 to 85 good.