2014 Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Chardonnay

Today is National Wine Day and it’s also Friday so I figured I’d open up one of my favourite wines to drink. For anyone that follows my blog or Instagram you may have noticed my love for this producer. In my opinion, Norman Hardie is producing the best. wine. period. in this country. period. IMG_3239

Of all the wines Mr. Hardie produces this hands down has to be my favourite. It pleases with its autolytic richness, refreshing acidity and distinct minerality. I’ve truly never had a Chardonnay like this one, it compares with many excellent white burgundies but with distinct lemon zest and minerality that those wines just don’t have. The wine from five sites, all near the winery, were aged in large oak barrels, roughly 30% new oak. The wine is unfined and unfiltered with minimal sulphur added.

In Prince Edward County (PEC) where limestone soils are prevalent, and winters so harsh that vines must be buried so that they don’t perish it is hard to imagine making wine. It reminds me of the mantra that says “If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” In this climate and region there are definitely obstacles, primarily weather, but also geography. The winemakers of PEC produce some of the best cool-climate wines in some truly marginal conditions and the wine world is all the better for it. Search out Norman Hardie’s wines, you won’t be disappointed!

 

 

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Kew Vineyards Estate Winery

Just over three weeks ago we visited Kew Vineyards in Beamsville, Ontario. The wineries in this area, known as the Beamsville Bench are considered to be some of the best in the country. On our trip the wineries here were certainly my favourite. They had a quaint down-home feeling that the wineries in Niagara-On-The-Lake generally don’t provide. Bench wineries seem to be focused more on artisanal quality over quantity wines. IMG_2957-2

I was excited to visit Kew in particularly because they’re known for their traditional method sparkling wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These types appeal to me. I’m an absolute sucker for a good Champagne but the cost just isn’t affordable for me on a consistent basis. With such solid and ambitious sparkling being produced so close to home, why not support regional producers and their wines while also saving a few bucks in the process. It’s a win-win situation!

While at Kew I tasted through their full range of sparkling and ended up walking away with two bottles, I would have bought more if my suitcase would have allowed. The most interesting wine of the flight was the 2010 Rosalie, this wine spent 6 years on lees and is made from 100% Pinot Noir. This wine is drinking right now but could definitely keep going for several more years. Raspberry and strawberry compote along with refreshing lemon-lime notes come through on the palate along with bready but not overpowering notes from the lees. I also got a little touch of burnt caramel on the finish, which added a candied/smoke, a component that I wasn’t expecting but quite enjoyed. IMG_2962-2

The winery also produces Blancs de Blancs, Blancs de Noir and a traditional method blend along with a variety of still wines. I enjoyed the Blancs de Blancs considerably with the blanc de noirs close behind. All of their sparkling wines are evenly priced at the incredibly reasonable price of $29.95 CAD, including the Rosalie, which as I previously mentioned spent 6 years on lees. With less than 600 cases of each being produced these wines are not available everywhere but if you can track them down they’re well worth it. Their still wines are also quite good. Of the few that I was able to sample the Marsanne I had was quite good and also worth a look.

If you’re a lover of sparking wines and you find yourself looking for a new Beamsville/Niagara winery to visit then look no further than Kew Vineyards.

 

2015 Benjamin Bridge Riesling

While Benjamin Bridge is known for the quality of their sparkling wines they have also been producing still wines from various vinifera and hybrid varietals. None of these offerings are more compelling than this Riesling. As a grape known for cool-climate wines Riesling is perhaps best suited to grow in this cool and sometimes harsh climate. img_3160.jpg

While I can’t find any mention of how the 2015 was blended, if it was the same as the 2016 it’s blended from four specific sites near the Bay of Fundy, Gaspereau Valley region of Nova Scotia. At 9.5% alcohol this wine would be a great patio sipper but it also has the stuffing to age and develop for at least another 5, maybe even 10 years. The wine was allowed to ferment using wild yeasts from each sight to “Allow for the natural expression of each vineyard” according to their website.

I won’t go so far as to say that it’s the best Canadian Riesling I’ve ever had but it’s definitely part of an elite group of producers who make this varietal shine. I would hazard to say that this is the best example coming out of Nova Scotia right now, at least based on the five I’ve been able to try so far. While the others were all great they’re missing a layer of complexity that this wine provides.

This wine has notes of lime, lemon zest, white peach, apricot, citrus blossom, flint and a distinct saline character along with just a touch of honey. This one doesn’t jump out at you from the glass but instead swarms your palate with its delightful citrus, stone fruit and saline qualities. This wine is available primarily in Nova Scotia but is poured locally at Raymond’s as a per glass wine when available. The wine is available through the winery and may be available at other fine retailers.

2015 Xavier Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise

I love trying new wines and the past few weeks have had me trying many new styles. When I saw this wine for 1/2 price at the LCBO I knew that I wanted to give this wine a try.

image1For those that don’t happen to be familiar with Muscat de Beaumes de Venise this is a sweet wine from the Southern Rhone in France. The wines are made by adding a grape spirit to the grapes when they’re in the process of fermenting. This brings the wine up to between 15-16% alcohol and leaves a high level of sugar in the wine. In the case of this wine the residual sugar sits at 112 grams per litre.

At $10 I couldn’t not give this wine a try and while it’s not a style that I love you can see that this is a well-made wine, which according to my research has typicity in terms of the flavour profile.

This is an incredibly floral wine and I got lots of elderflower and honeysuckle on the nose. Fruit notes consisted of apricot and ripe peach along with a touch of pineapple on the nose and palate. Big and rich with some acidity to balance the sweetness.

Backhouse Restaurant: A Taste of Niagara Terroir

Last week we visited Niagara and had a great wine and food experience. Part of that was a visit to Backhouse an ambitious local restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake. While there I ordered their signature tasting menu. The plates featured here were a few of my favourite courses, however, the duck leg with parsnip was my favourite.

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The restaurant is uniquely situated in a strip mall, something the restaurant ultimately overcomes with their smart design both inside and outside the restaurant. The food is thoughtful, flavourful and complex, albeit with a few quirks that didn’t entirely make sense to me. Firstly, the restaurant provides bread as the third course and not at the start of the meal, which would be fine if the 5th course wasn’t also more bread to spread duck liver mousse on. My problem is not with the bread, which is a complex mix of sourdough breads and a brioche during the duck liver mousse course. My issue, if you can even call it that was not with the amazing grass-fed and grain-fed local butters that were provided but more with the multiple bread courses (the dip egg course also had bread).IMG_3019

Secondly, we requested a carafe of water as we had been out biking and wine tasting that day. We were initially told that they would be unable to provide the water in a carafe, it was against their policy. We eventually did receive the water when the manager stepped in and rectified the situation. A small thing, something that the restaurant did resolve, but it confuses me as to why it was ever an issue to begin with.

Lastly, I’m aware of the importance of ambience in a restaurant but about half way through the meal the lighting went quite dark, as a tasting restaurant I feel this should also be balanced with the guests ability to see/photograph the intricacies of their food.

IMG_3021At the end of the day, despite my commentary, I would recommend this restaurant to anyone. My concerns were specific and small and given the restaurants desire to stay seasonal the inclusion of a lot of interesting breads on their menu is understandable. I’m sure in the bounty of harvest many other unique and interesting products are available. There really wasn’t a course that I didn’t enjoy. The food and wine was flawless from a flavour standpoint and the depth of flavour from the Ragu and mushroom broth in particular were unreal. As someone who likes to cook I definitely took a lot of inspiration from some of the dishes and flavours prepared. If you ever find yourself in the region this spot with great local ingredients and an eclectic wine list should be at the top of your list.