Monday, December 30, 2013

My Favourite Wines of 2013

One of the things that always interests me is when people choose the ‘best’ wines of a given year. I don’t quite understand how that works – mostly because I'm still a little confused by the criteria. This may come back to my  uncertainty around how wine scores work – does the wine with the highest score win the ‘best’ title or is it something else? I’m sure that people who have spent more time learning about wine totally understand how the selection is done, so I will leave that to the experts – they’re usually right.

For me, wine is often about the experience. The wine I celebrated my anniversary with this year tasted spectacular. Would it win ‘best’ based on the criteria for numbered scoring? I have no idea, but I loved that wine so much in that moment and that’s all that mattered.

As I was compiling this list (which is by no means exhaustive - I loved many wines this year), I realized that the moment I drank the wine tended to come to mind. And even though those moments were very different (on vacation in Germany, in my Wines II class, at a busy tasting), they all factored into how I experienced those wines. So will you look at this list and think I’m out of my mind to choose these particular wines over some fancy, 100-point scoring masterpiece? Maybe. But that’s OK, because the one thing I know about wine is that everyone has different tastes and my favourite may not be yours, but a really good wine tastes even better when sipped at the perfect moment. And it’s completely alright to have your happiest moments coincide with your best sips.

The Returning Favourite Category

Vineland Estate’s Elevation Riesling was my favourite wine in 2012 too. It’s just so crisp and refreshingly drinkable. I love the structure and how the green notes pop on my tongue and then leave a lovely, softly citrus finish. It’s no surprise then that I chose this wine to take with us when Shawn and I set off to celebrate our ‘first-date-iversary at The Millcroft Inn in Caledon in November. So when we were sitting in our beautiful room at the Millcroft, watching the snow fall on the waterfall outside our window, was the wine just as good? I’d argue it was better - because it was the perfect wine for us in that moment. 

I’ll give an honourable mention to Vineland Estate’sCabernet Franc in this category too, as it has become my ‘go to’ wine to bring when we’re visiting friends. It’s just such a crowd-pleaser and at an affordable price-point, so you don’t feel bad for spending $50 on a wine that no one in the room but you appreciates. Every time I bring this wine, people enjoy it and that’s way more important than the price tag.

The Year I Fell in Love with German Wine Category

I got to try a number of international wines this year and it really did open up the world of wine for me. It’s one thing to understand Ontario wine, but to really see it within the lens of wines from around the world is a treat. I was speaking with the winemaker from Errazuriz at an event and he said how much he envied Canadians because we have the wines of the world available so easily, which is very different than in Chilé. While I’d love to see a world where Canadians actually drank and appreciated Canadian wines the way other countries appreciate their own, I couldn’t help but get his point.

That said, I think there is something magical about drinking the wine of a region right where it was grown. Shawn and I had that experience in the Mosel, as we sampled so many of the local wines on our vacation. My favourite? St Urbans-Hof 2012 Kabinett, which we sipped one night as we watched the sun go down over the castle ruins in Bernkastel-Kues. Did the magic of that moment affect our appreciation of the wine? Absolutely. But I already knew it was a great one from my tasting at the winery earlier that week.

Another German wine that makes my list? The Dr. PaulyBergweiler 2011 Riesling Spatlese, which I chose for a recent #TOWineDinner. I am forever trying to choose a wine that will impress at those dinners, but because I am really just building up my cellar right now I don’t have anything vintage or fancy to bring most times. I love the dinners and learn so much, but I always feel like the newbie at the table. Following our visit to Bernkastel-Kues, I felt a bit more confident about bringing a wine from the region, as I’d had so much opportunity to really learn and start to understand the viticulture in the area. When those petrol notes hit my nose, I was concerned for a moment that it wouldn’t live up to the expectations I’d had, but I shouldn’t have worried at all. Everyone agreed that this was a great wine and I fell in love all over again with the crisp acidity and complex fruit and floral notes on the palate that German wines always bring me. I loved this one.

The Incomparable Canucks Category

While I have enjoyed visiting the world of wine, my heart always belongs with Canadian vino and this year I had plenty of chances to remember why. The best moment? When Paul Dearborn (whitbywino) broke out one of his Creekside Estate Winery 2007 Lost Barrel reds at a #TOWineDinner and my heart melted with every sip. This is one of those wines that opens up more and more with every minute it’s out in the air. One swirl brings black currents, another spicy caramel and cloves – it’s a wine you just want to sit with for hours, but that is just so spectacular to drink that you can’t resist. I loved seeing The Lost Barrel win the wine of the night – especially when it was up against such a stellar line-up of impressive international wines.

Another great wine I have Paul to thank for was The Old Third 2010 Pinot Noir. I think County Pinot has huge potential and for wineries like The Old Third, they are already reaching it. This was a fantastic wine that I am so thankful to have tried. I’m also lucky to be able to report that more amazing County Pinot is in the pipeline – based on a recent barrel tasting of the 2012 Lighthall Vineyards Pinot Noir, I am prepared to have that wine on my best of list next year.

The ‘I Can’t Believe I Got to Drink That’ Category 

Ridge Vineyard's 2010 Monte Bello is one of those wines that you hear about all the time. They reference it in wine books and articles – it’s considered an industry standard for California Cabernet. But it retails for about $150 a bottle in Ontario and that’s way too rich for my blood. Luckily, one of my wine instructors was willing to spring for a bottle in his class budget. And I’m so glad he did – because it was spectacular. Trying this wine, even in the sterile environs of a wine lab, helped me to understand what makes a quality wine – the body, the structure, the mouthfeel – it was unlike anything I’d experienced before and it was such a good learning opportunity. I feel lucky to have had the chance to try it.

Another wine worth it’s high price tag was Errazuriz’s 2010 Kai, which retails for $144.95 and is a delicious Carmenere with a splash of Petit Verdot. I had the opportunity to try this at an iYellow event and the memory of this wine has stayed with me long past the party.

And since we’re on the topic, a high price tag doesn’t always mean your heart will fall in love with a wine. Shawn and I were out grocery shopping recently when a friend tweeted that we had to check out the Ace of Spades champagne tasting at the LCBO nearby. Well, of course we did! So that’s how I found myself in jeans and a hoodie sipping $600 rosé champagne from a plastic sample cup. And it was… great. I liked it. But the $300 Ace of Spades gold champagne we also got to try was even better, in my opinion. Still, compared to any other sparkling I’ve ever tasted? Both these wines were incredible and I hope one day to get the chance to have them again.

What were your favourite wines of 2013?
Any must try wines for 2014? I hope you'll share them in the comments below.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ontario Wine Society – Prince Edward County

I thought it would be fun to join the Ontario Wine Society (OWS), but I wasn’t sure if the Toronto chapter was right for me. So when Paul and Kari Dearborn (whitbywino and whitbyfoodie on Twitter, respectively) announced the formation of the Prince Edward County chapter, my interest was piqued. I don’t live in PEC, as much as I may wish I did, but I feel a pull to the County in a way that’s hard to describe. When they assured me you don’t have to live in PEC to be a member (they don’t), I was happy to sign up.

My first event was a Wines of Summer tasting at The Grange Winery. I’d never visited The Grange, but it’s a beautiful location and winemaker Caroline Granger was on hand to walk us through a tasting of their Riesling vintages. It’s always a special treat to have a tasting opportunity like that with the winemaker and it was an added bonus that we were given a personalized tour of the cellars and tanks following that.

Add in some delicious snacks and my first OWS-PEC event was a great experience. I loved meeting other members (many live in PEC, many don’t) and getting the chance to have a one of a kind wine experience. The Society is planning more events and hopes to host them regularly as their numbers grow.

I asked OWS-PEC President, Trevor Norris, some questions about the chapter and wanted to share his answers below.

Why did you decide to start a PEC chapter of the Ontario Wine Society?

Being a huge fan of Ontario wine, and after hearing about Ontario's newest wine region in 2009, I decided to take a day trip to check it out and fell in love with the area. From then on I spent most of my weekends in PEC visiting wineries. I noticed right away that something was different about PEC - the wines tasted remarkably different than Niagara and I felt a strong sense of authenticity in the passion of the winemakers.  To be tasting wines with an incredible sense of place in my own backyard was intoxicating. 

After befriending a few winemakers and seeing the soil first hand I was amazed at the potential of the terroir of PEC.  The entire region sits on top of this prehistoric lake bed of ancient limestone and it was this limestone and distinct soil that was adding a wonderful third dimension to the wines much like one of my favourite regions from around the world - Burgundy, France. 

To think that someday, this little region toiling away and beginning to produce remarkable Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, might rival Burgundy is extremely exciting to me.  I love drinking wine where you can taste the vineyard itself, all those terroir-driven complexities and that the winemakers in PEC are focused on nurturing and highlighting that in their wines.

I felt that a PEC chapter of the OWS would allow for us to create a window into a greater awareness of PEC wines and to educate as to why this is an extremely special region.  Most importantly, we wanted to create a space for wine enthusiasts at all levels of interest to come together, interact and share their love for wine.

What perks do people receive by joining?


With an OWS membership you (and a guest) get to attend exclusive wine events at a special member price at any of the five chapters - Prince Edward County, Niagara, Toronto, Halton and Windsor-Essex.  For our chapter specifically, all new members also receive a membership card and a beautiful Riedel Bordeaux glass engraved with the OWS-PEC logo (valued at $20).  Your membership card entitles you to complimentary tastings at participating industry member wineries in PEC, Niagara and other chapters.   As well, OWS partners with other organizations to offer discounts to members for wine magazine subscriptions, winery offers, glassware, tour packages, etc. A full list can be found at http://www.ontariowinesociety.com/membership/benefits

How are the winemakers and wineries in PEC responding to the Society?
I think first and foremost the wineries and winemakers in PEC are incredibly happy there is another voice and promotional vehicle in PEC to promote the industry out here.  PEC, being a smaller industry in a region trying to prove itself alongside Niagara's multimillion dollar wineries and industry, we have to fight hard for tourism and wine purchase dollars. 

A lot of wineries in PEC are small family-run operations whose only source of promotion is word of mouth.  With an organization like the OWS, we can tap into our widespread membership and bring smaller wineries into the limelight and showcase their truly exceptional wine. 

Our events so far have enjoyed strong turnout and our membership is the fastest growing in the society.  We have received great press and very positive feedback from our participating wineries and events held thus far.  Our calendar is starting to take shape for 2014 with more and more wineries wanting to partner with us for events and the excitement is building for what we have planned this coming year.

Many people think you have to live in the area to be a member, but I know that's not true. Why do you think so many non-residents are interested in this chapter?


Well I think the biggest reason for non-resident interest in our chapter is that PEC is a destination spot.  Unlike Niagara, We are very lucky to have 3 major urban areas - Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto - relatively close by and people that live in those areas visit PEC quite a bit.  A great many of these people come to PEC now strictly to indulge in the incredible wine culture here.  As wine enthusiasts, they're looking for other unique events targeted to wine than some of the more mainstream festivals and events.  I would say more than any other chapter, we are able to attract more non-residents as member as they realize the benefits quickly.  They are already here for the weekend and get to enjoy one of our carefully tailored events, get a chance to interact and have an experience with winemakers and wineries on a level that the ordinary tourist wouldn't normally get.

For more information on the OWS-PEC visit their website here: http://www.ontariowinesociety.com/chapters/prince-edward-county/