Wines from BC – #ONtastesBC

The January 19th Vintages release at the LCBO includes some amazing releases from our friends out west. I have been fortunate over the past 12 months to participate in a number of promotions for Ontario wine and I am a strong supporter. But I have been chomping at the bit to try more wines from BC. They keep so much of their quality product to themselves and ship so little out that it’s often tough to get a read on what’s happening in the West. But on Thursday, January 24th we venture out to British Columbia with a live Twitter discussion under the hashtag #ONtastesBC. To prep for this discussion I pre-tasted 6 wines from BC which are being released by Vintages this Saturday.

I don’t want to give away all my thoughts and notes prior to the Twitter event, but these 6 wines will makeup the bulk of the discussion. My tasting notes on each wine are below.

Gray Monk, 2011, Gewurztraminer Pale lemon and a bit watery in appearance with intense floral aromas that jump out of the glass alongside honeydew, stone and some tropical fruits. On the palate it’s a bit more mellow than I would have expected. Extremely easy drinking with fruit so rich it almost comes off with a bit of sweetness. Pair with Asian or Indian food. LCBO: #321588 Price: $19.95 Recommendation: Consider Trying Score: 88

Quails’ Gate, 2011, Chardonnay Very nice aromas and a big bouquet for a chardonnay. The aroma’s of vanilla, toast, oak, and red apple jump out of the glass. There is really a lot going on. On the palate however it lacks as the vanilla takes over and dominates a bit. The apple comes on, but too little too late. Pair with chicken, pasta and seafood. LCBO: #377770 Price: $21.95 Recommendation: Don’t Bother Score: 85 Mission-Hill--Reserve-Chardonnay-2010 Mission Hill Reserve, 2010, Chardonnay Beautiful lemon/gold colour starts off in the glass. The aroma’s are well integrated with oak, vanilla, peach, and apple and then even some tropical fruits coming through as the wine warms up. On the palate the oak is well integrated with flavours of peach, toast, nuts, vanilla, and butter. Pair with your next Thanksgiving turkey dinner and don’t look back. LCBO: #545004 Price: $19.95 Recommendation: Must Try Score: 89 Eau-Vivre-Pinot-Noir-2008 Eau Vivre, 2008, Pinot Noir Almost a hint of brown or tauny mixed in with the beautiful ruby colour. On the nose you get some cooked cherry, earth, and violet notes and overall very strong aromatics. On the palate this wine bursts with flavour and shows it’s true colours. Cherry, earth and cigar smoke are all beautifully integrated with soft tannins, nice acidity, and a great lingering finish. An overall beautiful, soft, pinot noir. Excellent value at $22. LCBO: #308353 Price: $21.95 Recommendation: Must Try Score: 91 Osoyoos-Larose-Grand-Vin-2008 Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin, 2008 Truth be told I have wanted to try this wine for years and have almost bought it on multiple occasions. I was not disappointed A robust blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot this wine is huge and full of flavour. You’ll find dark fruit and even espresso on the nose. Plus, if you’ve ever smelled pipe smoke you’ll also notice that in the aromatics. On the palate you get a soft mouthfeel which just coats your mouth with velvety tannins that you almost can’t even notice. This is a perfectly balanced wine with the longest finish I have tasted in awhile and although it’s a big red red wine you could easily find yourself sipping this without hesitation. Pair with red meat and game. LCBO: #626325 Price: $45.95 Recommendation: Must Try Score: 92 Mission-Hill-Quatrain-2008 Mission Hill Quatrain, 2009 A blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cab Sauv, and Cab Franc this one was a surprise to me as I hadn’t heard much about it. It bursts out of the glass with beautiful dark colour then dark fruit, cigar smoke, and the smell of a cellar. On the palate you get a multi layered wine with the fruit jumping out first before the tannins hit your cheeks. Then it closes with the cigar smoke which lingers on your palate for awhile. It is so well integrated I had to taste it about 10 times to make my true assessment. Not that I minded. A perfect pairing with prime rib or really any good red meat. LCBO: #218636 Price: $41.95 Recommendation: Must Try Score: 93

If you want more information or want to give your own thoughts join the discussion next Thursday, January 24th and follow the hashtag #ONtastesBC. Many wine writers and experienced critics from around Ontario will be joining the discussion. Talk to you then.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

Just imagine… Ontario with private wine stores

Privatization: “to transfer from public or government control or ownership to private enterprise.” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/privatization).  OK I admit I probably didn’t have to publish that definition for you to appreciate what this article is about.  If you have been following the Ontario wine industry, or Ontario politics, over the past few weeks you are well aware that the issue of privatizing the sale of alcohol in Ontario is once again heating up.  Of course this is nothing new as the debate over privatizing the LCBO has been going on for decades.  In fact in 2005 a report titled “Beverage Alcohol System Review” commissioned by Dalton McGuinty himself strongly recommended privatization at that time.  Needless to say it didn’t happen.

The LCBO has been in place since 1927 and few times has it even come close to being abolished or integrated into a joint system with the private sector.  However I have been following the discussions very closely over the past few weeks and I feel as though not only is the discussion once again heating up but it has the structure and backing to potentially succeed this time.  I am all for it.

I had actually been perched on the “privatization” fence for a while before jumping over.  At first I blindly supported privatization but only because I believed many of the “myths” which I’m sure many of you believe.  I had initially assumed that privatization would instantly lead to lower prices, ala our friends to the south.  Then I realized that is likely not true as evidenced by higher prices in many other provinces which have adopted at least some form of privatization.  Many believe that the LCBO – due in part to a relatively low tax rate compared with other provinces – actually helps keep pricing in check.  In fact a private system may lead to higher prices mostly because a store owner would still have to mark up their product considerably; both to cover contributions back to the government and to make a living.  Then for awhile I jumped on the anti-LCBO bandwagon striking them down as a monopolistic Goliath who does nothing but serve the interests of themselves and the government – ignoring consumers all together.  That is also not true.  The LCBO contributes hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to the Ontario government, which many believe helps keep all of our taxes down.  They also have such a massive structure that they can afford to operate what are sometimes unprofitable stores in many outlying areas of the province.  This includes many small towns where a privately owned store would likely struggle.  Plus in my personal opinion the LCBO is actually a wonderful shopping experience.  The stores are well merchandised, easy to shop, and they employ very knowledgeable staff.  The buyers for the LCBO are extremely talented and as such the product we get access to is quite good.  All of which, from a consumer perspective, is very positive.  They are also governed to help curb major societal problems including alcoholism and under-age drinking by keeping the sale of the product so regulated.

What I’m trying to say is that I had previously supported privatization based on limited knowledge of how it would actually unfold and because of an unfounded bias against the LCBO.  I’m sure there are many out there who think the same way.  So why now, based on everything I just outlined with full knowledge of the situation and a better appreciation for the LCBO, do I still support the privatization movement?  Simple, it ultimately benefits consumers with better selection and more choice.  Regardless of the structure a private wine system may take it would put the availability of products in the hands of individuals in the private sector.  These people would be able to stock their shelves with whatever product they wish.  Small wineries from around the world would have more chance of being available at retail stores because they wouldn’t have to meet the massive production requirements of the LCBO.  Shops could cater to an individual market, location, and unique consumer demands.  These are the very fundamentals of a free market.  Then picture Toronto where you have true ethnic diversity.  You would likely find this diversity in the availability of wine.  Just like a descendent from Tuscany can open a truly authentic restaurant, that same person would theoretically be able to open a truly authentic Tuscan wine shop.  How amazing would that be?   Finally what garner’s the most support from me is the rather obvious benefits to our local wine culture and businesses.  Private wine stores would allow for better stocking of Ontario wineries who can’t find their way onto LCBO shelves.  A recent study showed that wine consumption in Ontario has surpassed liquor and now accounts for 30% of Canadians’ total alcohol consumption.  That number rises year over year, while both beer and liquor consumption continues to fall.  Furthermore the study showed that one third of the wine consumed is now domestic wine (see the full article).  It’s no secret that the quality of wine in this province is getting better year after year, so the availability of this wine to the local consumer should be without barriers.  It shouldn’t require you visiting that winery to get the product.  I have personally predicted that Ontario wineries will be a major force on the world wine scene in 5-10 years. For that to happen, and for us to be considered up there with France, Italy, California, Australia, etc. privatization also needs to happen.

This movement is being driven largely by the Wine Council of Ontario which has launched a consumer driven approach called #mywineshop which you can find on www.mywineshop.ca.  This is basically a glorified petition where consumers can create a virtual wine shop and put it on the map.  They can then directly e-mail their local MP with support for the privatization movement.  This consumer involvement is new and is fundamental to the most recent lobby for change.  Check it out and if you can spare even 5 minutes put your very own wine shop on the map.  Their model is one where the LCBO and private wine stores co-exist and more importantly, their model is well laid out and could actually happen.

As I also mentioned there is significant momentum behind this and I am far from the only person writing about it.  Check out the great writers below and their take on the possibility of private wine stores.

John Szabo, Wine Align
David Lawrason, Wine Align
Shawn McCormick, Uncork Ontario
Mike Dicaro, Spotlight City
Rick VanSickle, Wines in Niagara

Just imagine more consumer choice when it comes to purchasing wine.  Just imagine a shop in the middle of Niagara which carried wines from every single winery in Niagara with a store owner who is an expert on the region.  Just imagine being able to open your very own wine store.  Just imagine our wine industry, finally structured the way it needs to be.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

A review of Rosewood Wines – By. Jennifer Britton

On Tuesday October 23rd Rosewood Wine Estates held a private tasting at George Brown College in Toronto to showcase their portfolio of wines.  Best known for their Mead’s (wine made from a base of honey) Rosewood brought together a group of writers and wine lovers to try their entire portfolio.  Beyond the wines however the goal was also to showcase the ability of their wines to pair well with food.  Hence the selection of George Brown as the venue where the talented chefs created a special menu designed to showcase the wines and their match with a variety of foods.

I have spoken to a few people who were in attendance and it appears this all came across.  TOwineman was well represented by Jennifer Britton who acted as our correspondent and reported back.  Beyond being my sister, Jen is a wine lover in her own right and a veteran in the service industry.  Who better for Rosewood to leave a good impression on?  Well apparently they succeeded, and with that I turn the blog over to Jen to recount the event for you in her own words.

Recently I had the pleasure of representing towineman.com by attending a private tasting with Rosewood Estates Wine at the Chefs House at George Brown College. We were welcomed warmly to the open kitchen restaurant by the Rosewood team. There was a lovely set-up for the tables with a spot to take notes as well as 5 large wine glasses for the tasting. Once everyone got settled, the team started with the tasting. I loved not only that I got to sample the Rosewood portfolio of wine, but also the fact that they were all paired with food.

The wine we started with was their 2011 Harvest Gold, paired with a delicious Chicken Tikka with Mango Chutney. This wine is Rosewood’s signature dry mead, meaning a wine made from a honey base. It had a sweet honey tang and struck the right balance between sweet and savory with the chicken. Paired with the Chicken it brought out a wonderful amount of heat.

The second wine grouping we moved onto tasting were the Whites. We paired each wine in this group with a White Fish Ceviche. The first wine was the 2011 Semillon which was sweet and crisp. It also had a lot of pepper notes as well as hints of pineapple and pear. This choice was very fruitful and a great pair with seafood. The second wine was the 2011 Mima’s Block Riesling. This wine has wonderful sage and lemon notes with an aftertaste of fresh apples. This white was crisp and smooth and brought out the lemon in the seafood. Interestingly I am normally not a Riesling fan, but this wine was a great balance of sweetness and actually ended up being my number one pick for the whites. The last of the Whites was the 2010 Sussreserve Riesling. This choice is a 7th harvest and had strong apricot and tree fruit flavors. It was a sweeter wine, but actually had a mild taste and smell.

Stepping away from the wines for a second I must mention the staff.  During the presentation the Hospitality students at The Chefs School, who were very wonderful and attentive, waited us on. They were friendly and very motivated and made the tasting an overall success.  My thanks go out to them.

We then moved on to the Pinot tastings, which were paired with a Fried Mushroom Arancini.  We opened with the 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve. This wine was a natural fermentation wine with notes of pepper.  It was very spicy but had a smooth smell and taste. The second we tried was the 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve. This choice was less spicy with more berry notes. By comparison the 2010 was much smoother than the 2009 and had a slight hint of chocolate in the flavor. It did however have a much more bitter aftertaste. 

From there we moved onto the rest of the reds. This bunch was paired with a delicious Braised Lamb Shank Tortellini, which was fantastic! The first red was the 2010 Cabernet Franc, which was very dark in colour with grainy flavors and hints of jam. It was very fruity with strong berry and a little spice. With that complexity and gorgeous colour it was my pick for best red. The second was the 2010 Merlot, which was a very pure tasting wine. It was the best pairing with the red meat and had smooth and nice subtle flavors. The last of the reds was the 2010 Merlot Reserve, which is fermented for 5-6 days and sits for fermentation for 3 ½ weeks after. This wine had strong oak notes and had a very bitter aftertaste.

Lastly we had the 2008 Mead Royale. I think this wine was probably the most anticipated on the list for a lot of the attendees. The wine is 6-month barrel aged and is a consumer favorite. It is made with pure honey, water and yeast and is much lighter in color than most whites. It had a very strong floral smell as well as the extreme notes of honey and sweetness. It was paired with and aged oak Gouda, which toned down some of the sweetness of the wine. Although a great price and a wonderful honey, sweet wine, this wine was too sweet for this particular taster.

All and all, this was a wonderful tasting that I was more than happy I was able to attend. The food and the wine were both wonderful and I would recommend Rosewood Estates wine to all the readers out there. The wine is not only wonderful but it’s a great value at the LCBO. Happy tasting! 

We would like to thank Jen for her attendance and her thoughtful recap of the event.  Catch up with Jen on Twitter here.  We would also like to thank Rosewood Wine Estates  and George Brown college for their hospitality.

To learn more about Rosewood Wine Estates check out their website http://www.rosewoodwine.com/

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

Canadian Wine and Cheese Discussion with Natalie Maclean – Oct 10th

Last Wednesday, October 10th, was a special one for towineman.  I was invited to participate in a very unique wine and cheese pairing discussion which consisted of sampling 9 different Ontario wines, and 6 different cheeses from all across the country.  This post will focus on a summary of that discussion as well as my reviews of the wines including some notes on the pairings with the cheese.  First off however, let’s start with a bit of background on the tasting itself and how it all came together.

In case you are not already familiar with Natalie Maclean, let’s start there.  Natalie is one of Canada’s top wine writers.  In fact she is one of the world’s top wine writers, being named the “Best Wine Writer” at the World Food Media Awards held in Australia.  Based in our nations capital, Natalie runs a very successful wine blog, participates in countless online discussions and videos, has an encyclopedia of wine and food recommendations on her site, and also is the author of Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines and Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine Soaked Journey From Grape to Glass.

In partnership with many Ontario wineries and some of the best cheese manufacturers in the country, Natalie managed to pull together 11 bloggers from the wine and food community to participate in a live online discussion on pairing wine and cheese.  The discussion was broadcast live on Google+, a fascinating tool that allows live discussion as well as live streaming.  Each writer, respected in their own right, brought a different perspective and unique opinion to the discussion making for a very robust and entertaining ‘virtual’ round table.

Each of the 11 assembled writers was equipped with 9 Ontario wines, 6 Canadian cheeses, our notepads, and live video.  The result was a discussion that was not only a joy to participate in, but also a helpful tool for the everyday consumer with tips and key facts on all the products we tasted. Here is the video for your viewing pleasure.

From left to right you’ll find: Allie HughesCourtney FloodCorinna Horton; Dan TrckaJason SolankiGaby Israel; Me; Natalie MacLeanNina SyasSara Connelly and Travis Oke

As a participant one of the highlights of this discussion was just how well prepared and knowledgeable everyone was with the products.  Personally I spent about 2 hours prior to the event tasting and evaluating each and every wine and cheese on it’s own, as well as my featured pairing the St. Albert Onion Cheese, with the Jackson Triggs Sauvignon Blanc  (skip to minute 18 in the video).  But that was just my preparation strategy and I was not alone.  Each and every person you find in the video was extremely well prepared.  I encourage you to check out all of their blog sites as each and every one of them will likely enhance your experience with wine and food.

Also to answer a very important question.  NO! True to form I did not waste any wine.  I did have to open all 9 bottles for the tasting and no, I did not get through them all alone.  But with the help of some very willing friends I hosted a private wine and cheese party on Friday night as a follow-up to this more formal one.  Though there is no video evidence and there will not be a follow-up post from that panel discussion.

Here are my thoughts on the each and every wine, including some notes below on pairing the wines with the cheese.
Jackson Triggs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc – 2011 
This is what you should expect from an Ontario Sauvignon Blanc.  Fresh with lively acidity, this wine shows vegetal notes with asparagus and grass, plus some nice stone fruit coming through.  There isn’t a ton going on here, but a very refreshing and drinkable sauvignon blanc.
Score: 86, Price: $13.95

Jackson Triggs Reserve Series Riesling – 2011 
A pretty simple Riesling this wine shows nice apple flavours paired with good acidity and even a slight mineral undertone.  There is some noticeable effervescence in the glass which aids the pairing with rich fish or cheese.
Score: 86, Price: $11.45

Open Chardonnay – 2011 
If I am searching I notice there is some creaminess, some apple, and even some minerality on the nose, but my appreciation for this wine pretty much ends there. It’s a bit watery on the palate and the acidity is less than I would expect.
Score: 82, Price: $11.95

Jackson Triggs Reserve Chardonnay – 2011 
This chardonnay has obviously seen some time in oak as the creaminess and the vanilla come through prominently on the nose.  Almost to the point of smelling like an aged whiskey with less alcohol.  However the vanilla is very over the top and out of balance and after letting the wine sit it was all I could smell and taste.
Score: 83, Price: $10.95

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay – 2009
Here we have a 2009 Chardonnay that is easily balanced and complex enough to sit for another 2-3 years in your cellar.  This wine has a ton going on. Oak, minerality, butter, nuts, and even lemon on the nose and palate.  The acidity is fresh and the finishing taste seems to linger in your mouth for awhile.  Pair with fresh fish, rich cheese, pasta, chicken, turkey……
Score: 91, Price: $30.00

Inniskillin Pinot Noir – 2011 
This Pinot smells as though it has been aged a bit even though it has not.  Fruit comes through with cherry and even some olive notes, then some earthiness as it sits a bit.  The tannins are juicy and the wine is easy drinking.  I don’t get enough of the Pinot Noir silkyness or a long enough finish to rate this wine too high, but a nice easy drinking wine for sure.
Score: 87, Price: $13.95

Open Cab2/Merlot – 2011
I call this a “try hard” wine as it appears to be overtly seeking the traditional flavours known with cab/merlot blends. So much so that is actually lacks in many areas.  I get some blackcurrant and smoke on the nose but it ends there.  The wine is out of balance and there is literally no lingering finish to the wine in your mouth.  Some of the initial flavour you get is long gone in mere seconds.
Score: 80, Price: $10.95

Jackson Triggs Reserve Series Merlot – 2010 
This is a very nice wine a nice buy at $13.95.  Nice ripe cherry on the nose, partnered with some smoke and earthiness even typically associated with a more aged wine.  There is immediate cherry on the palate, then a nice lingering, smokey finish that is beautiful.
Score: 89, Price: $13.95

Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine – 2011
Though a half bottle is $70, I publicly declared that this is one of the best dessert wines I have ever tried. This wine has the rare ability to make you stop what your doing and tell everyone around you to be quiet so you can enjoy the moment.  The sparkling nature is perfectly balanced with the icewine while not being over the top sweet.  Just magical.
Score: 94, Price: $69.95 (375ml)


The Cheeses: (Click in the link to learn more about each cheese)

La Fromagerie du PresbytèreBleu d’Élizabeth (no website)
Upper Canada Cheese Co – Comfort Cream
Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co – Alpindon
Laiterie Charlevoix – 1608
Bothwell – Madagascar Green Peppercorn
St. Albert Cheese Co. – Onion Cheddar

The cheeses were all outstanding and I continue to be impressed with the quality of product we have access to domestically.  Within this list of cheese there was representation from right across the country with products from Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and BC.  In my opinion the top pairing was hands down the Inniskillin Ice Wine with the blue cheese.  The rich sweet ice wine was the perfect complement to the heavy blue cheese, with enough acidity to cut through the fat.  It was glorious and I think my sentiments were echoed by most on the panel.  The other general theme that you’ll notice in the video is that the Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnay got rave reviews as a quality wine, but also an excellent pairing with most of the cheeses offered.  A few other pairings to try include the Jackson Triggs Sauvignon Blanc with the onion cheese or the Jackson Triggs Riesling with either the blue cheese or the Kootenay Alpindon.  Or… just try all the cheeses on their own and I assure you that you won’t be disappointed.

Final thoughts:
Here is a good time to provide some clarity.  You’ll notice in my wine ratings that there were a few I didn’t like and thus received negative reviews from me.  I am a writer and a critic and I aim to remain unbiased in my views.  From time to time I am not going to like something and I consider it part of my job to let you all know.  I also try to review wines based on quality and not just personal opinion, hence the positive review for the Sauvignon Blanc despite not personally liking the wine.  At the end of the day though you might still like any of the wines above and you are free to agree or disagree with me.  That’s the beauty of it all.  At least you know I am being honest.

Many, many, thanks to Natalie Maclean, all the panelists, and the participating wineries and cheese makers.  It was my pleasure to be a part of this panel and I look forward to the next discussion.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

The readers have spoken – Pinot Noir is your favourite!!

My first official readers poll has ended and the readers have spoken… Pinot Noir is your favourite Ontario grape variety!!

First off all I thank all of those who participated.  I was a bit nervous that I would only get a few votes, but I am pleasantly surprised by the vote tallies, the comments, the re-tweets, and the overall feedback… so thanks!

Pinot Noir came in first just a single vote ahead of Riesling which came in second.  Really not bad choices.  Along with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir is all the rave in Ontario these days, then you have Riesling which has been a staple of our wine industry for years.  We are a cool climate region and producing world class cool climate wines, mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Writers and wine enthusiasts around the world are beginning to take note of this and Ontario is getting some much due respect for these wines.  In my opinion it is these two grapes (along with Ice Wine of course) that will carry us to wine superstardom in the wine world in the years ahead.  Chardonnay for the record received my vote, so though it tied for third I am giving it the nod to round out the top 3.

Other Interesting Results:
- Ice Wine only received two measly votes.  What happened out there?  Is our Ice Wine only popular to the rest of the world and not domestically?
- Chenin Blanc was the only grape variety not to receive a single vote. However I am not surprised at all as I threw it in there just to see if anyone would submit a faulty vote. There is no way you could pick Chenin Blanc above all the other options given.  So this is my proof that the results are indeed accurate and relevant.
- Cab Franc and Cab Sauv rounded out the top 5.  Other than Ice Wine missing (as mentioned above) it is no surprise that the top of the list included Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cab Franc… but I am slightly shocked at the Cab Sauv support out there.  I guess there are just that many people who love Cab Sauv no matter where it’s from.
- Someone voted “other”.  Please reveal yourself and the grape variety you are referring to as your favourite in Ontario. Seriously I am very curious.  My guess is Baco.

Here are the final results:
1. Pinot Noir – 27%
2. Riesling – 23%
3. Chardonnay – 12%
4. Cab Franc – 12%
5. Cab Sauv – 12%
6. Ice Wine – 8%
7. Gamay – 4%
8. Other – 4%
9. Chenin Blanc – 0%

Based on the results here are some recommendations on what to try for under $20:
O’Leary Wines, Unoaked Chardonnay, 2011, #307751 – $14.95
Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir, 2007, #13904 – $16.95
Chateau de Charmes Estate Bottled Riesling , 2009, #61499 – $12.55
Thirty Bench Riesling, 2009, #24133 – $18.95
Lakeview Cellars Riesling Reserve, #294074 – $16.95
Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay, #116384 – $18.95
Mike Weir Pinot Noir, 2009, #75 – $19.95

Once again thanks to all who voted.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

What is your favourite Ontario grape variety?

If you have been following along you will have noticed I have written a lot about Ontario lately in support of the upcoming LCBO campaign (#LCBOgolocal) and also just in support of our industry as a whole.  But today I open it up to all of you and wonder what is your favourite Ontario grape variety?

Results will be summarized over the next few weeks and compiled in a follow-up post.

Comments are very much appreciated as well.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

A trip to wine country – #LCBOgolocal – Aug 21st

Well I am spoiled.  Simply spoiled.  I was chosen to be an active participant in this years #LCBOgolocal campaign to provide much tweeting, blogging, and active Ontario wine discussion in the social media community.  I certainly tried to do my part and I hope those that have been following along to #LCBOgolocal have learned a thing or two and are excited for the upcoming Ontario wine releases we will be seeing in-store over the next few weeks.

If you have been following along you would have noticed that the group attended a full day in Niagara wine country on Tuesday August 21st.  It was truly a celebration of all Niagara wine country has to offer.  At the risk of sounding as though I am bragging I wanted to provide a recap of that day and I think the pictures say more than enough.

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But aside from the obvious fact this was a special day in wine country it was a great opportunity for us all to take a step back and appreciate all that Niagara has to offer.  You can read my take on it with 20 reasons to drink Ontario wineto learn more.  The LCBO in partnership with Wine Country Ontario are strongly supporting this years “buy local” campaign and are continuing their strong support of the local industry.  The concept this year (and the reason’s bloggers and social media types are involved) is to get people talking.  The theory, and rightfully so, is that not enough consumers appreciate what our local wine culture has to offer.  Not enough people are talking about it and subsquently picking up bottles when they visit their local LCBO.  That is why we all visited wine country on Tuesday so we could write about it and provide you all reasons to go visit and to buy local.  Foodland Ontario uses the tag line “Good things grow in Ontario” and we are all familiar with it.  While you know what?  The exact same thing applies to wine.

The #LCBOgolocal campaign “People Are Talking” runs September 16 to October 13, 2012 and will feature many Ontario wines.  The promotion will showcase 137 products including 24 new VQA wines.  There will be 5 Vintages Essentials and 21 VQA wines released through the Vintages September 15th catalogue. There will be in-store tastings, fun opportunities to give a video testimonial, and the Taste Ontario event running at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Friday September 28th.  Then on September 22 and 29, you can take part in your own tasting, including locally-sourced food pairings, at one of these LCBO event kitchens.

  • Summerhill – 10 Scrivener Square, Toronto
  • The Kingsway – 2946 Bloor Street W, Toronto
  • Bayview Village – 2901 Bayview Avenue, Toronto
  • Orion Gate – 54 Steeles Avenue, Brampton
  • Millcroft Centre – 2000 Appleby Line, Burlington
  • Rideau Street – 275 Rideau Street, Ottawa
  • Nepean Crossroads – 543 West Hunt Club Road, Nepean
  • Roundhouse – 3165 Howard Avenue, Windsor

You can find out more about these events, the tastings above, and all things Ontario wine at the LCBO Go Local site. In the meantime, you can get involved by using the hashtags #LCBOgoLocal and #VQA on Twitter or simply talking about Ontario wines on Facebook and with your friends and family.  Enjoy all that Ontario has to offer!

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

20 Reasons to drink Ontario Wine

Well we are officially closing in on the harvest for Ontario’s 2012 vintage, and for some grapes we are a mere 2 or 3 weeks away.  In some cases we will see one of the earliest, most ripe, harvests in some time.  It’s also time for the LCBO’s yearly “buy local” campaign (http://www.lcbogolocal.com/).  This year, more than ever the LCBO is promoting this campaign through traditional and nontraditional media outlets.  The idea is to get people talking about and drinking Ontario wine and the LCBO goes live with an in-store promotion in 3 weeks to support the industry.  As an active participant in the promotion this year I have been very fortunate.  I have sampled over 40 Ontario wines in the past two weeks and have been able to interact one on one with some of the best in our industry.  On Tuesday I spent the entire day on a grand tour of Niagara, tasting, eating, and exploring all that Niagara wine country has to offer (look out for the entire blog recap of the day coming very soon).

Being part of this experience has certainly taught me a lot.  I have always supported Ontario wines and our local culture.  I have spent many hours in Niagara and my in-laws are actually from the heart of the region.  So I certainly knew that our wine industry was great long before I joined this promotion.  I knew that the wines were consistently underappreciated by writers and the general public and that the people in the business were knowledgeable and passionate wine professionals. I knew that the restaurants and the tourist industry were as good as any, and that we we we’re producing some quality wines.  What I didn’t quite realize was just how true all of those statements really are, and just how poised our wine industry is to become one of the great wine regions in the world in the years to come.

So I’ll make this very easy on you.  Here are 20 reasons why you should drink Ontario wine and visit Ontario’s wine country.

1) Because our winemakers are passionate… I mean very, very, passionate.  Don’t believe me? Then introduce yourself to Ed Madronich of Flat Rock, Daniel Speck at Henry of Pelham, or Brain Schmidt at Vineland the next time you are out at those places. And they are just a subset of the great people you will come across.
2) Because VQA stands for 100% Ontario grown grapes.
3) Because the experience of visiting Niagara wine country can be as good a wine country trip as the other major regions in the world… but by comparison it is in our backyard.
4) Because as Michelle Bosc from Chateau de Charmes says “We want to be Niagara. We don’t want to be anyone else”.
5) Because the region also produces fantastic locally made cheese and locally grown foods.
6) Because we are permitted to experiment and be innovative. At Chateau de Charmes they are experimenting with hybrid grape varieties and at Peninsula Ridge their Ritafia is a blend of a Chardonnay and an in house spirit made from distilled Plums… and it is fantastic.
7) Because the wineries all support each other.
8) Because we are the only region in the world guaranteed to make Ice Wine every year.
9) Because the wine experience is wonderful right from the food, to the wine, to the exceptional service at every stop.
10) Because we produce exceptional Pinot Noir, Baco Noir, Gamay, Chardonnay, Riesling, Ice Wine…….
11) Because the people are down to earth and approachable.
12) Because our terroir is so unique with the moderating lake effects from Lake Ontario coupled with the Niagara escarpment.  Furthermore we are situated on the same latitude as some of the greatest wine regions in Europe.
13) Because we are still so small that we can’t afford to be snobby or stuck-up.  As a result no question is a dumb one and everyone is simply out to have you try and enjoy their wine.
14) Because there is value to be discovered in quality wines at reasonable prices.
15) Because if you start drinking it now you will that much more appreciative and knowledgeable when Ontario is one of the great wine regions of the world in 5-10 more years.
16) Because even outside of Niagara there are great wines to be discovered in Prince Edward County, Pelee Island, and Lake Erie North Shore.
17) Because the restaurants in the wineries have come a long way and now employ some of the finest, most creative chef’s in the province.
18) Because it is absolutely gorgeous.
19) Because we have big chateau’s, small family owned wineries, & B&B’s.  We have completely green, organic, and sustainable vineyards.  We have stunning modern vineyards, as well as old world victorian style.  We have vineyards within a 45 minute drive from downtown Toronto and we have close to 80 wineries in the Niagara region alone.
20) Because the wine is truly excellent.

Enjoy!

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

O’Leary wines win the night – #LCBOgoLocal – Aug 7, 2012

Last night, alongside a number of my Twitter and Blogging friends, I attended a tasting for a line-up of Ontario’s next wines to be hitting the LCBO shelves in mid September.  It was cool because it was a pre-tasting for wines that haven’t hit stores yet.  A sneak peek into the direction the Ontario wine industry is headed.  Plus I will always jump at the chance to support the local wineries and the “buy local” movement of both food and wine.  With 19 Ontario wines to try and hosted by the LCBO, Ed Madronich (winemaker at Flat Rock Cellers) and Dan Sullivan (winemaker at Rosehall Run) I was flattered to be invited and happy to attend.

What the LCBO is doing is they are getting behind Ontario wine in a big way.  These wines will hit store shelves on September 16th and will be supported by the “People are Talking” campaign.  The Ontario wine industry wants to be more involved in social media and is recognizing that those with some Twitter influence, who largely support Ontario wine anyways, can be big allies for them in helping grow the market and bring more Ontario wines to the masses.  So under the hashtag #LCBOgoLocal we tasted and tweeted all night long, and at the end of it all the “People are Talking” campaign has my full support.  I would also encourage you to keep looking out for updates on the campaign on the LCBO website.  In the weeks leading up to the promotion you just might find a few video clips of yours truly speaking about Ontario wines.

But the reason it has my full support is not because I was part of last night’s festivities.  It has my full support because I firmly believe that Ontario wines are still undeveloped with so much for the everyday consumer to discover.  We are barely a blip on the world stage in production and consumption, but our winemakers are producing quality wine across all regions.  I believe in the next 5-10 years Ontario will make major strides in both quality and quantity of the wine being produced and will continue the push to become one of the top wine regions the world over.  Our tourism will see the benefits and the wine industry will be better for it.  Personally I am happy to be involved in it all, because at the end of the day all of us will benefit because as consumers we will continue to have access to wine of increasing quality and decreasing prices… and who wouldn’t want that?

This is all evidenced with the wines hitting the shelves next month.  We sampled 19 wines and only 4 of them were over $20.  These Ontario wines are made to be approachable for the everyday consumer as the theme for this release seems to be easy drinking wines, made to be drank now (not put in the cellar), loaded with ripe fruit flavours that can appeal to even the most basic of wine consumers.  I may have missed just a couple pictures but here are the photos of what we sampled. (Click on any image to view a larger size or to view the entire gallery)

What should you buy?

1)      I was blown away by the O’Leary wines, both the Chardonnay ($14.95) and the Cabernet Merlot ($14.95).  Yes the same O’Leary that is famous for his role on Dragon’s Den.  In partnership with the folks at Vineland Estates (winemaker Brian Schmidt already producing fantastic wines) Kevin O’Leary branches into the wine world with these releases.  I didn’t know what to expect however I declared on Twitter following the tasting that the O’Leary wines won the night for me, and I stand by that.  Brian even tells me that Mr. O’Leary was actively involved in the production of the wines so full points on that one as well.

2)      The Sandbanks Baco Noir Reserve ($19.95).  To be honest I didn’t want to like this wine.  I have not been the biggest Sandbanks fan in the past and I am also not the biggest fan of Baco Noir.  So the fact that this hits the list is a big testament to this wine.  It was great, is very easy drinking, and would go very nicely for those out there that consider themselves white wine drinkers but want to get into red wine.

3)      Lakeview Cellars Riesling Reserve (Vintages, $16.95). A very nice and fairly elegant Riesling for this price point.  It also showed a candied nose without being overly sweet somehow.

4)      Rosehall Run Liberated ($15.95). A very easy drinking Chardonnay/Muscat blend.  This wine is loaded with peach and ripe, fresh acidity, with a nice lingering finish.  This would be a nice summer wine for out on the dock at the cottage.

5)      Andrew Peller, Ice Cuvee Rose Signature Series (Vintages $34.85).  Ok this was the most expensive wine on the evening by a landslide, but I strongly recommend it if you want to spring for $35 bottle.  It’s a Rose sparkling wine that went down so easily.  Perhaps the next time you are put in charge of buying some bubbly for a special occasion you will consider this one.  Still a better price point than most French Champagnes.

You know what… the Ontario wine industry is fun.  There is little to no snobbery out there.  Ed and Dan embodied such a passionate and approachable personality and were so eager to talk about their product showing more enthusiasm then is demonstrated by most.  That comes across in this batch of wines.  They are fun.  They are approachable.  But at the end of the day they are also quite good.  Ed started the evening with a 20 minute rant about the future of Ontario wines.  In that speech he said “We are always innovating and getting better… because we have to.  We have to meet the LCBO’s extremely high standards, which is unique to our industry.” This is a good thing for the quality of wine you will see from Ontario.  So forget about California, France, Italy, and Australia for awhile and get behind #LCBOgoLocal.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman