It turns out, wine pairs well with dinosaurs.
Last Thursday’s Taste Ontario placed representatives of great Ontario wineries underneath fossils and artifacts at the Royal Ontario Museum. Appropriate as the older the wine or the vines the grapes have grown on, the more prestigious a bottle (usually) is.
Typically, at events like this, guests begin to trickle in about 30 to 45 minutes after the doors open. But this night, there was a lineup of people waiting to rush the entrance. That was my first clue that this was going to be a big night. Some of the biggest labels in Canadian wine were there: Norman Hardie, Closson Chase, Tawse, Le Clos Jordanne, Angels Gate and Hidden Bench, to name a few, all offering generous pours of their best new vino. And the big boys certainly know how to bring out the big guns – Mr. Hardie, Moray Tawse and Hidden Bench’s vigneron/proprietor Harald Thiel all manned their own booths, pouring, offering insights into the wines, and answering questions.
There wasn’t just a selection of your typical Merlots and Chardonnays. Gewurztraminers were plentiful, Henry of Pelham unveiled their bubbly 2008 Blanc de Blanc “Carte Blanche,” and ice wines received the royal treatment with their own lavishly decorated room. Torontonians love a good cocktail, so as soon as a few guests were spotted with the Chateau Des Charmes Vidal Icewine concoction (mixed with POM juice, ginger ale and pomegranate seeds), everyone in the room made a mad dash to get their own. Their Vidal was my favourite ice wine, but I preferred it on its own with its explosion of tropical flavours, like pineapple and banana. I also enjoyed the playfulness of Pillitteri Estate’s Cabernet Franc Ice Wine, though the sweetness seemed to overpower the fruit flavours a little.
The biggest trend I recognized is that Ontario winemakers are starting to allow their wines to get a bit more “funky,” with lots of wine either being unfiltered or achieving an unfiltered taste. This essentially means that the wines retain more of a rugged, natural, terroir influenced flavour instead of being cleaned up to the point of losing those interesting nuances. Cave Spring’s 2011 Chardonnay Musqué was made with a Chardonnay clone grape that they decided not to store in oak barrels, so the Chard is a lot less sharp and buttery than you’d expect, and the grape provides a musky finish. Angels Gate’s 2011 Mountainview Merlot also defied grape expectations with a medium body you’d typically expect from a Shiraz, and its very long, mineral finish created that unfiltered effect. And of course, there’s Norman Hardie leading the charge with his line of unfiltered wines, the 2010 Pinot Noir, 2012 Country Pinot Noir, and the 2011 Chardonnay. All exhibit depth as the result of the winemaker refusing to alter what the grapes express naturally.
Overall, there’s enough great wines in Ontario to completely overpower your palate should you attempt to taste them all. Luckily, these are all available in VINTAGES at your local, well-stocked LCBO, or can be purchased directly from the wineries. Even better, give them a visit at their gorgeous vineyards to get the VIP treatment.