Ontario Pinot Noir shares sense of place at Chianti Rufina tasting in Florence
Attending tastings of Canadian wines has become somewhat routine, but the Ontario Pinot Noir tasting I attended recently felt monumental. It was held in the beautiful Palazzo Borghese in the heart of Florence’s historic centre, and the wines were poured to a group consisting primarily of Italian media, restaurateurs, and retailers, with a smattering of UK wine trade and media including several Masters of Wine. Most had never tasted Canadian wine before (other than Icewine) and many had no knowledge that we produced “serious” wines beyond the sweet stuff.
The tasting was held in conjunction with the Anteprima Chianti Rufina (preview of the 2010 Chianti Rufina and 2009 Riservas) and organized by Ian D’Agata, chairman of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Italy, Bordeaux and Canada), Decanter Magazine contributor and, incidentally, Canadian-born (although he’s spent most of his life in Europe and the US).
Moderated by D’Agata and Stephen Brooks, contributing editor of Decanter Magazine, the tasting presented the Ontario Pinot Noir producers attending with some tough comparisons to previous wines/regions (Barbaresco and Burgundy) featured at the annual event. Not only did the wines show well, I dare say they surprised and impressed the Eurocentric tasters in the room. The tasting was quite complimentary as the two styles of wines shared several characteristics including fresh fruit expression, bright acidity, minimal oak influence and a refined elegance.
The Ontario Pinots all showed great varietal character and clear sense of place. What they may have lacked in complexity and length can be attributed to youth, both in the age of the vineyards and the Canadian industry in general. But most importantly, the overall high quality of the wines had the tasters talking, with many expressing their interest in exploring Canadian wines in greater depth.
The Ontario producers invited to the tasting are part of the Somewhereness group, which was founded by six wineries dedicated to site-specific wines that share “philosophies that reflect on small farms, sustainable practice, and responsible stewardship of the land, and ultimately a purpose to highlight through wine that elusive character of … Somewhereness.”
Most impressive was the attitude of the Ontario producers when asked to explain the benefits of presenting their wines at an international tasting, when their production is so small and the vast majority of their wines are consumed domestically. Ed Madronich, owner of Flat Rock Cellars, was emphatic in expressing that he has no interest in producing wines that are compared only with other Canadian wines. He wants to produce great quality wines with typicity that can be compared favourably with quality wines from around the world, even if he never was to sell any of his wines internationally.
Norman Hardie echoed Madronich’s sentiments and added that if Canada is to be looked upon as a serious wine producing country, producers must strive for quality and regional diversity and participate in more international events to create awareness and interest. Even though the quantity of wines produced is not great, creating an export market/demand for Canadian wines is crucial for the growth and maturity of the industry.
And there is no reason why top Canadian wines shouldn’t be sought after and sold internationally. The terroir exists and the quality for a young wine producing country has evolved dramatically over the past 20 years. It’s time to start showing the world.
Cave Spring Cellars Pinot Noir Estate 2009, Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($40)
Fresh raspberry, cherry and hints of fresh herbaceousness on the nose with a mid-palate-filling texture, hints of spice and a juicy acidity on the finish.
Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2009, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario ($30)
Initially a little closed on the nose, but opens up nicely in the glass, showing aromas of cherries, plums, spice and a touch of earthiness with flavours of raspberry, red currants and dark cherries, spice, silky tannins, a touch of minerality and great balance.
Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Reserve 2009, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario ($48)
A bit of an awkward “ugly ducking” at first (as one member of the Italian wine trade put it), but blossoms beautifully, showing bright currant, black cherry, cranberry, earth and spice with a creamy texture and nice complexity. A little closed on the finish, but a little more time in the bottle should allow for fuller expression.
Malivoire Mottiar Pinot Noir 2009, Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($40)
Bright aromas of cherries, raspberries, plum and tobacco with a juicy, creamy texture, ripe cherry flavours, a silky finish with bright acidity and nice minerality.
Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir 2009, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($35)
Delicate aromas of bright cherry, raspberry and a touch of earthiness, a little nervous on the palate and needs a little time to settle, but showing great elegance, firm underlying tannins, and lively acidity.
Norman Hardie Pinot Noir ‘L’ 2009, Ontario ($69)
One of the tasters’ clear favourites. Great character and complexity on the nose with aromas and flavours of black cherry and mineral, elegant, great fruit expression, a creamy texture, well balanced, firm tannins, bright acidity and nice length.
Azienda Agricola Frascole Chianti Rufina Riserva 2008, Tuscany ($28)
Ripe juicy aromas and flavours of cherry, raspberry and currant, fresh acidity, silky texture, a zesty finish and great balance and elegance.
Fattoria il Lago Chianti Rufina Riserva 2008, Tuscany ($34)
Very charming aromas of juicy cherry, currant and spice, fresh and bright red fruit flavours, a firm underlying structure and lively acidity on the lengthy finish. Well made.
Frescobaldi Castello di Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva 2008, Tuscany ($25)
Showing more dark fruit on the nose and a little austere, dark cherry and plum flavours with a full, almost muscular mid-palate, firm lush tannins and finishing with bright acidity.
Podere il Pozzo Chianti Rufina Riserva 2008, Tuscany ($30)
Bright, fresh aromas of cherry, raspberry, hints of smokiness, a nice suppleness on the mid-palate with some grippy tannins towards the ripe finish.