Monday, July 23, 2012

Watch Your Back

Over the past three months I have tasted a variety of Canadian wines that have astounded me. Artisan Wines, a boutique wine supplier in Connecticut has bravely entered four Canadian producers into the Connecticut market. 13 total new labels in the State and not a single ice wine among them, I’d certainly consider that brave. The producers are Hidden Bench, Tawse, Flat Rock Cellars and Norman Hardie. The main focus is Chardonnay and Riesling but the Pinot Noirs are really coming into their own.

The wines hail from the Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward County in Ontario. The climate is similar to Oregon though the growing season is slightly warmer and the winters are much colder. It’s just north of the Finger Lakes but thanks to the great warming influence of Lake Ontario, its far warmer in the late growing season. The soil is the real story. Over 450 million years of glaciations and retreat have yielded a soil tremendously rich in minerals. It is being captured by the wines.

The wines I have tasted so far have been mineral driven, varietally correct and complex. I tried, desperately, to fall in love with the 2010 Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir to no avail. Was I disappointed in the wine? Not at all, it is very good Pinot Noir in the $20 price group. The wine fell just a little flat on the palate. Its aromas are fantastic with floral and fruit notes and just a hint of smoke. Its youth does suggest it might develop the richness and depth on the palate that I was looking for. On the contrary, the 2009 Flat Rock Chardonnay was love at first sniff. Weight and texture while remaining mineral driven with lovely apple and lemon curd notes. This wine will develop nicely over the next few years. It’s just slightly nervous right now.

The 2009 Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay was simply stunning. Rich in texture with bright acidity keeping it focused. Baked apple and pear notes with a mineral mid palate leading to a long and graceful finish. The wine has me chomping at the bit to try the Riesling and the Chardonnay "Tete de Cuvée". It also has me thinking that California better watch their back. If Canada can consistently produce wines of this quality and get it on the shelf for $35, California will lose even more space on the shelves. The estate is run by Harald Thiel, who is widely regarded as one of the small, quality focused wineries that has helped bring the Niagara Peninsula into its modern age.

I urge you to try the wines from Norman Hardie. Norman is a South African that has produced wine in Burgundy, New Zealand and Oregon before deciding that Prince Edward County would be the place where he would create his mark. His name is being dropped in all the right circles and Toronto restaurants are buzzing with his wines. I've only tried the 2009 Prince Edward County Pinot Noir which was quite beautiful, reminiscent of young Volnay. Bright, floral and earthy with notes of bing cherry and smoke. It will be a pleasure to watch this wine and Mr. Hardie’s career develop.

Admittedly, I'm on a California bashing spree. Rightfully so. The wines offered from the righteous State of California coupled with their pricing are almost embarrassing. Egos are über inflated as sub-cultures of celebrity wine producers meld with celebrity Somms creating this alternate universe of exclusion, gluttony and greed. I'm reminded of a tweet posted by Cathy Corison that said something like "In the end all we have left to sell is our integrity.” Perhaps if more California producers could be as humble as Ms. Corison, we might see an end to this putrid era of basking in one’s grandeur and a return to integrity in California wines. Until then, they should watch their backs. Regions like the Niagara Peninsula are ready to take charge. Some of us are listening.


  1. I really enjoyed the Nathan Hardie wine! You mentioned that he's tried to produce in a number of places... as a South African, did he ever try to produce in South Africa? I'm with you on the California thing... I feel like it's also a byproduct of what happens when it becomes all about selling, rapid producing, and commercialization. Maybe it's good that Canada is still pure and undiscovered for now so that true enthusiasts can enjoy.

    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed the Hardie wines. His bio does state that he produced wine in South Africa. I believe he feels he can produce more distinct, unique and elegant styles in the Niagara Peninsula. I also believe that in the United States, we are finally experiencing a better representation of South African wines than in the past. Among my favorites are the Diemersdal Reserve Chardonnay, and the Grangehurst Pinotage. I find both wines to be deeply expressive and outstanding values. South Africa is another relatively untapped resource for great values. The wines have been mostly misunderstood by the United States consumer as they have been typically exposed to the wrong wines. Hopefully that can be turned around. Thanks again for your comments!