Every year I feel an urge to visit a specific wine region. One might even describe it as a calling. Whatever term applies, the destination is the same: Prince Edward County.
Why you may ask? Simple! It is heartening to see the growth and changes of a still nascent region. New wineries are opening every year and quality continues its upward trend. Furthermore, there is something incredibly soothing about the area, which I attribute to the folksy small towns, friendly people and relaxed, cottage country mentality.
My most recent trip was even more compelling due to the fact that I was there to taste the excellent 2012 vintage. Like the rest of Ontario, PEC experienced an extremely early bud break; unfortunately, a week of negative evening temperatures at the end of April caused damage to the tender buds. Wineries which had wind machines came out the least scathed, losing around 15 percent of their crop. Those without, in some cases, lost upwards of 40 percent.
With the arrival of summer, things became hot. June temperatures, on average, were three to four degrees above normal and July surpassed the 30˚C mark for 17 days; almost three times the average. August produced much of the same. With the arrival of September, one of the earliest harvests on record started, under nearly perfect conditions. The saving grace for PEC was that precipitation was normal, whereas other areas in Ontario experienced drought conditions.
Stylistically, the wines are ripe with fruit forward attributes and this has produced two distinct camps amongst the winemakers, especially in regards to the regions two signature grapes: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. According to Fredric Picard of Huff Estates, “all the elements came together to make the best vintage ever, for me at least. I was able to wait to pick fully ripe grapes without any issues from Mother Nature.” Others, such as Caroline Granger from The Grange of Prince Edward County and Dan Sullivan from Rosehall Run prefer 2011 and 2013, as they were cooler vintages, which produced more traditional renditions. Personally, I appreciate the overt nature of the 2012 wines and I suspect many consumers will also.
The following are a list of the best wines that were tasted by myself and fellow wine judge, Ara Kafafian. One of the criteria was authenticity. The majority of PEC wineries import grapes from Niagara to produce Niagara and/or county blends, as a means to supplement income. What has been tasted here is strictly 100% county fruit.
92 Exultet Estates The Blessed Chardonnay 2012 ($40)
It’s safe to say that owner/winemaker Gerard Spinosa is making the best Chardonnay in Ontario. This is the 4th consecutive vintage of this wine to capture a gold medal at the Ontario Wine Awards. Luxurious, it pumps out loads of buttered popcorn, hazelnut, cream, mineral, banana, pineapple, red apple and spice. There is excellent length, medium acidity and enough stuffing to evolve over the next five years.
90 Rosehall Run Estate Chardonnay 2012 ($29.95)
This full bodied and concentrated Chard spent 16 months in oak, of which 25% was new. The result is a combination of peach, pineapple, red apple, honey and smoke with a long mineral/spice driven aftertaste. Drink until 2020.
90 Closson Chase Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 ($29.95)
The CCVC is a luscious Chardonnay which shows a heavy oak influence in the form of hazelnut, toast and spice. Combined with the sweet peach, pineapple, red apples and minerals, it makes for a wine that will appeal to both new and old world wine lovers.
89 The Grange of Prince Edward Riesling 2012 ($15.95)
Superb value without a doubt! The petrol, lime, honey, lilac, smoky minerals, white pepper and grapefruit are supported by an intense mid palate. The finale is long and the balance between acid and residual sugar is beautifully achieved. Drink over the next 3 years.
88 Keint-He Winery Portage Chardonnay 2012 ($20)
Fresh baked apple cinnamon pie gives way to orange, lemon, honey and white flowers. There is substance, verve and a rich finish which carries. Quintessential lobster wine, indeed. Drink now to 2018.
88 Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2012 ($21.95)
This well-priced Chardonnay delivers up a Burgundian fragrance of hazelnut, toast, mineral, honey, apple and spice. A yin-yang of cream and acid carry the finale. Drink over the next 4 years.
88 Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012 ($39)
This rendition of this wine is a departure from the reductive style of previous vintages. Read open, oaky and overt. The hazelnut, buttered popcorn and spice mesh with the apple, floral and mineral qualities of the grape. A creamy texture and a lengthy finish make for a delicious drop of juice.
88 Lacey Estates Riesling 2012 ($25)
Bergamot, peach, lime and mineral come together in this wine. Even though there is close to 30 grams of residual sugar, the perception is that of an off dry wine. There is ample length to round everything out.
87 The Grange of Prince Edward Winery Pinot Gris 2012 ($14.95)
If you are looking for a great Chardonnay alternative, here you go! For this price, it a solid Gris with a light to medium body and a pleasing profile of peach, honey, citrus, spice and mineral. The silky mouth feel, moderate acid and lengthy flavours make for immediate drinking. Pair with a cheese platter or grilled chicken.
87 The Grange of Prince Edward Winery Unoaked Chardonnay 2012 ($16)
Medium yellow, this is alluring Chardonnay exudes aromas of apple, peach, pear and smoky minerals. The palate adds citrus, toast, caramel. It is soft and accessible right now.
87 Chadsey’s Cairns Winery and Vineyard Riesling 2012 ($23)
A charming little Riesling with punchy personality of peach, white flower, honey and lime. This flows into candied fruit, mineral and spice on the tangy aftertaste.
87 Chadsey’s Cairns Winery Gewürztraminer 2012 ($23)
This lithe yet accurate Gewurz doles out a combination lychee, rose, apple, honey. It is dry with a spice tinged finish. Drink now.
90 Rosehall Run Cuvee County ‘The Swinger’ Syrah 2012 ($30)
This is a worthy successor to the equally fabulous 2010. Unfortunately, it is also the last vintage of this wine because the vineyard lease has been assumed by another winery. Ruby/purple colour with a powerful Syrah nose of black pepper, blueberry, cassis, vanilla, mocha, hickory and rosemary. Concentrated, the palate shows great persistency and tannic structure to carry it until 2020. In a blind tasting of Northern Rhone wines, you would be hard pressed to pick this out as Canadian, let alone PEC.
88 Huff Estates Pinot Noir 2012 ($30)
The explosive bouquet of cherry, raspberry, plum, smoke and cocoa leads into a ripe palate with mild acid and a slightly creamy texture. Very good length and ready to drink, preferably with porcini crusted pork tenderloin.
88 Huff Estates Winery Cuvée Janine Rose 2012 ($29.95)
This 100% Pinot Noir traditional method rose bubbly spent 18 months on the lees, imbuing the wine with a toasty/nutty quality which melds together with cherry, cranberry, crabapple and citrus. The small creamy bubbles caress the palate on the lengthy finale.
88 Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir ($39)
A cherry explosion encapsulates the plum, earth, rose and clove flavours in this medium bodied Pinot. There is admirable density and persistency as well as a soft texture. Drink over the next 3 years. As a side note, I had a chance to try a barrel sample of Norm’s premium ‘L’ Pinot Noir. It is a truly magnificent wine, which will easily score in the low 90s when released later this year.
88 Rosehall Run Cuvée County Pinot Noir ($22.95)
A delicate Pinot Noir with a pale ruby colour. The perfume of cherry, strawberry, violets and earth carry onto the taste buds. The lengthy finish and supple tannins make for a wine that will drink well until 2018.
88 Devil’s Wishbone Pinot Noir Lake on The Mountain 2102 ($29)
This ready to drink Pinot reveals chalk, cherry, spice, plum and hints of blackberry. Soft in the mouth, there is ripe fruit and soft tannins which round out the drinking pleasure.
87 Rosehall Run Cuvée County Gamay Noir ($19.95)
Here is a straightforward, no nonsense Gamay, that is made for charcuterie boards and/or terrines. Strawberry, cherry, spice, black pepper and oregano are buttressed by lively acidity and soft tannins.
86 Waupoos Estates Winery Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012 ($29.95)
Made from 3-year-old vines, this Franc shows admirable cassis, plum, raspberry, earth spice and herb qualities. As for weight, it is on the lighter side, with a medium finish and supple tannins. Drink now.