Friday, August 19, 2011

TasteCamp 2011 Reveals Winning Ontario Wines

This spring a group of wine bloggers, primarily from the Northeastern U.S. and Eastern Canada, descended on the Niagara on the Lake wine region for the third annual TasteCamp. TC gives wine bloggers an intense weekend of wine tasting and education in wine regions that are not usually widely promoted. This year’s group was notably multilingual, as French Canadians joined the usual crowd of native English speakers.

On to the wines. I found a number of the white wines to be of very high quality. I enjoyed many Rieslings, most notably the single vineyard offerings from Thirty Bench. These had lovely minerality and lush tropical fruit flavors, a winning combination that I wholeheartedly recommend.

My wow wines of the trips were the Chardonnays. Being grown in a cold climate, the grapes achieve higher acidity than the same grapes from California, South Africa, or Australia, for example. It was this extra shot of acidity that brightened the classic Chardonnay flavors of apples and citrus and gave the wines a welcome liveliness. I am not the biggest fan of Chard, but these were very special. The offerings of Tawse Winery were most memorable.

Pinot Noir is another go-to grape for the Ontario winemakers, but I must say that many of these wines tasted green to me – did the grapes ripen adequately? To my palate, the answer was no. And yet, there were exceptions. Flat Rock Cellars did present some very pleasing Pinots, along with an interactive tour that included quizzes, and, most sensational, a sparkling wine that was not sabered, but axed! Very Canadian.

But no discussion of Ontario wine would be complete without mentioning their most famous offering: ice wine. Grapes are hand-picked after they have frozen on the vines. The juice that is pressed from these icy berries is thick and full of sugar. Once vinified, they are some of the world’s best dessert wines – and it is traditional to serve them chilled in cordial glasses. We tried dessert wines made from Vidal grapes (a common variety up north), from Riesling, and, most intriguing of all, one ice wine from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which was a lovely pink-amber color and tasted of strawberries.

In all, TasteCamp 2011 gave us a very good foundation in the joys of Ontario wine. In addition, the Niagara on the Lake area offers lovely rolling countryside and fine dining: our group was most impressed by the succulent lamb shanks that were the entree of our excellent dinner at Treadwell Farm to Table Cuisine. Throw in a visit to the Falls, and you have a perfect weekend wine destination from the northeast.

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