A few weeks ago, I sat down with Mary Ledlow to taste some very good Ontario wines. Throughout northern Ontario, Mary represents several prominent Ontario wineries, including Prince Edward County’s Norman Hardie, as well as Flat Rock Cellars, Angels Gate, Frog Pond and Meldville, all of the Niagara region.
During a Sabbatical leave in 1983, Mary, a former secondary school teacher, undertook an apprenticeship/Stage at Michelin-starred ‘Restaurant Guy Savoy’ in Paris after completing a course at La Verenne Cooking School.
In 1994, through introductions made by Guy Savoy, Mary visited and tasted at top wineries in the Rhone – Chapoutier, Etienne Guigal, Jaboulet – and in Burgundy - Domaine Leflaive, Jean Grivot. Upon her return home, Mary established Vinaissance, focussing on Ontario wines. She regularly visits wineries in Niagara and Prince Edward County.
Mary has been concentrating on promoting excellent Ontario wine. In Sault Ste. Marie, Solo Trattoria and the Delta Hotel, carry wines she represents. In Thunder Bay, they can be found at Tomlin, Caribou and Both Hands Wood-Fired Pizzeria.
For those who spend time in the “Near North”, you will find these wines on lists at The Huron Club and Gustav Chop House +Bar in Collingwood, Ray’s Bistro Bakery and the Millcroft Inn in Alton, and the Mill Café in Thornbury.
Norman Hardie is the iconic winemaker in Prince Edward County. His winery was the site for the visit to the region of Prince Charles for Canada’s 150 celebration, and his Chardonnay has received +90 reviews in a respected American wine publication.
His blended white, Calcaire 2016 (the name is a nod to the region’s limestone terroir) combines Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay. It has a pleasing density, carrying citrus and peach on the palate. Fresh tasting, it shows very good acidity that lingers on the finish. The price is $23 per bottle.
Meldville Wines are comparatively new to the Ontario scene, but their pedigree is excellent. Derek Barnett learned winemaking beginning at Southbrook Farms in Vaughan. His raspberry dessert wines were amazing. From Southbrook, Derek became the chief winemaker at Lailey Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake. A couple of years ago, however, Lailey was sold to a Chinese interest which was bent on producing icewine almost exclusively, and Derek decided this wasn’t for him.
He now makes Meldville wines, named after his boyhood home in England, out of Legends Estate Winery in Niagara. Derek is a craftsman, and his wines are a true varietal expression of the grape.
The Meldville Chardonnay 2015 has great depths of fruit and demonstrates a deft touch of oak. Beautifully balanced, the wine is great on its own, but would accompany creamy pastas, white fleshed fish, or roasted chicken. Stone fruit, apple and spice may be detected as well. This chardonnay was just named ‘Best Oaked Ontario Chardonnay under $20’ at the 2017 Ontario Wine Awards. Price - $20.
Kew Vineyards is a new winery with happily transplanted Australian Philip Dowell at the helm. He is also winemaker for Angels Gate. The 2015 Kew Marsanne is one of the few wines of this type in Ontario, an example of a French grape more commonly associated with the Midi and Rhone in France. It is a fairly rich, chewy and distinctive white showing some wood on the nose with a round mouthfeel and citrus notes towards the finish – about $25. It won “Top Varietal White” at the Ontario Wine Awards this year.
At Angels Gate, Philip makes a GSM red. For those “in the know” GSM would suggest a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, fairly typical in France. Here in Ontario, however, Philip uses Gamay, Syrah and Merlot. The deep garnet 2015 displays robust fruit and an array of flavour, but is delicious and not one drop “over the top”. Gentle, powerful, and yummy, it could be a proud placeholder on any wine-list. Price - $23
Frog Pond is a fully qualified organic winery in Niagara. Its reds are distinctive, not the least for their soft and smooth mouthfeel. The Gamay Noir 2014 is a light ruby in colour and reveals soft spice and good plummy fruit. It is a lighter red, and would benefit from being slightly chilled before serving. ($16)
The companion Frog Pond Cabernet Franc 2015 is a darker, velvety purple-tinged red. Like the Gamay it has a soft entry and carries a wisp of bell pepper on the red berry fruit, along with a spicy note on the finish. About $18.
Norman Hardie makes a Cabernet Franc from Niagara grown fruit, $29 retail. The 2015 is made with absolutely no sulphur and is intended for relatively early consumption. This wine reveals ample fruit and very soft tannins and good acidity carries through to the finish.
Hardie’s Niagara Pinot Noir was one of the wines Justin Trudeau served to Barack Obama on his visit here. The 2015 is very much in the style of Burgundy with an interplay of sweet and savoury. It comes on quietly, but rolls out in subtle waves of expanding flavour. Mary suggested it would serve well with grilled salmon or roast chicken. Absolutely excellent. ($45)
While Mary and I did not taste any Flat Rock Cellars wines that day, its 2014 The Rusty Shed Chardonnay was named ‘Best Oaked Chardonnay over $20’ at the Ontario Wine Awards. The 2013 was scored 90 in the August edition of Wine & Spirits magazine, where it was called juicy ripe and opulent. - $27
Ontario truly can make world class “cool climate” wines, and these examples are excellent proof of the fact. Should you wish to know more about acquiring these wines for yourself, or know of a restaurant eager to improve its list with good Ontario wines, Mary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While much of the Vintages portfolio comes and goes, there is a core group of wines which are always available. The latest vintage of the Ravenswood Vintners Blend Old Vine Zinfandel, the 2015, $18.95, is now available. A blend primarily of Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, it carries mint and dark fruit on the nose. There is an elegance here, with a velvet texture and a lighter weight than you might anticipate, but the flavours are persistent with dark berry fruit, balance, and satisfying length. Grill some lamb chops, and enjoy.
August 19 Vintages Release
Philippe Viallet Savoie Blanc 2015, $14.95. Here is an intriguing white from the Savoie region of France adjacent to the Swiss border, and the only wine of its type in all of the LCBO’s holdings. The primary grapes, Jacquère and Altesse, are seldom seen elsewhere, and it is the Altesse with the greatest character. The Wine Spectator notes plum and peach with lemon zest and a minerally edge, calling it “tangy and bright” - 90
Terre Stregate Svelato Falanghina Del Sannio 2015, $17.95, is a Gambero Rosso “three glass” recipient, excellent for its type. Fresh and vibrant, floral, crisp and nutty, according to Vintages, this should be very satisfying. The La Guardiense Falanghina 2016, $16.95, already on our shelves, tastes terrific, and it had just two stars. I am looking forward to this one.
San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, $18.95, is minerally and bright, chiseled and potent, according to the Wine Enthusiast, which gives it a 91.
Les Neiges De L’Agly Vermentino/Viognier 2013, $19.95, is a distinctive blend led by Vermentino, a grape normally associated with Italy, but now also appearing in wines in the south of France. 60 per cent of this wine received new-oak treatment. Jeb Dunnock of robertparker.com references “gorgeous white peach, citrus blossom, white flowers and a kiss of honey-suckle to go with a ripe, rounded and textured feel on the palate.” - 91
Familia Castaño Hécula Monastrell 2013, $13.95. Robert Parker Jr. explains that these are old, non-irrrigated vines, and remarks on its “fabulous texture” calling it “rich, concentrated, quite savory and mouth-filling. This is a stunner.”- 91
La Posta Pizzella Malbec 2014, $15.95, from Argentina is the “most refreshing and crisp of La Posta reds” and “firm, crunchy, tense and red with a tremendous palate” according to Descorchados, the South American guide - 93.
Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition 2015, $16.95. From a winery consistently producing sound and affordable wines in France’s Costières de Nîmes region, this Grenache/Syrah offers “sweet red fruits, garrigue, peppery herbs and dried flower aromas and flavours. It’s a steal.” robertparker.com - 88.
Elgin Vintners Pinot Noir 2013, $19.95, comes from a plateau in South Africa entirely surrounded by mountains. Carrying a gold medal from the Decanter world Wine Awards and a score of 95. It is said to have a lovely nose of crushed strawberries, with a bit of leather and smoke, and is “bright and vivid with succulent berry fruit.” –then expect “supple tannins and a …peppery finish.”
Fielding Red Conception 2015, $19.95, is a Bordeaux blend which winealign.com describes as “ripe, layered and swaddled fruit with plenty of juicy, energetic and vigorous upside.” - 88.
This release features many more very tempting wines of all types. Be sure to speak with your product consultants for suggestions beyond the ones described above. Mention the kind of wines you prefer, and follow their leads.