The cover line on the glossy catalogue plugging today's fine-wine rollout at Ontario Vintages stores reads, "Ontario's Shining Moment." The reference is to 2007, a year that yielded what many growers believe was the best vintage in Ontario history. It was our 2005 Bordeaux, as it were. And, for the record, I should say that Canada's other major wine-producing province, British Columbia, had a remarkable 2007 harvest as well.
During the past year or so, I've enthused in this column about many whites from that harvest in both provinces. Now, the reds, following a period of extended maturation, are moving onto retail shelves. Ten from Ontario are to be released this morning as part of a special spotlight on the province's wines.
Good weather, especially in autumn, has extra relevance for red grapes when it comes to cool-climate regions such as Ontario. Fashionable dark-skinned varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, in particular, need longer "hang time" in the vineyard in autumn to ripen fully. Advanced ripeness is critical for developing rich sugars and phenolic compounds associated with the complex flavours, full body and velvety textures of today's most coveted wines. When growers are forced to pick reds early, usually to pre-empt cold snaps or heavy rain, the resulting wines are watery and can take on unpleasantly green, stemmy notes as well as overbearing acidity. Great wine is all about complexity and balance. You can't make great wine with inferior fruit.
Time was when producers and consumers made a virtue of the old-school tendency to pick early as a hedge against foul weather. They would enthuse about the dominant herbal notes in badly made red Bordeaux, a region prone to rains at harvest time, which is sort of like admiring the side-panel corrosion on a seventies-era Detroit rust bucket. But with competition in recent decades from such sunny regions as California and South Australia, where ripe fruit each year is almost a given, wine growers everywhere are being judged mainly on the ripeness of their fruit. Unlike bananas, grapes don't ripen off the plant.
In my opinion, the most impressive red of today's Vintages release in Ontario is 13th Street Winery Gamay Noir 2007 ($18, product No. 130195). Gamay is the red responsible for light, fruity Beaujolais from France. There are not many, if any, better Ontario producers of gamay than 13th Street. Its renown with the grape even spilled across the Atlantic recently to one of the world's greatest restaurants: the Fat Duck, superchef Heston Blumenthal's Michelin three-star, which has added a 13th Street product from the previously released vintages, 13th Street Gamay Noir Old Vines 2006, to its wine list. Yes, a Canadian red on the list of a restaurant regularly ranked, along with El Bulli in Spain, among the top two in the world. The 2006 Old Vines is long sold out, incidentally, but its 2007 successor will be released before Christmas through the winery only (www.13thstreetwinery.com).
Meanwhile, the entry-level gamay noir 2007 that is due out this morning in Ontario stores would compare favourably to most high-end, higher-priced "cru" Beaujolais from France. Though predictably light in body (it's gamay, after all), the wine has impressive depth of flavour, with a silky texture and notes of vanilla and earth, all lifted by fresh, gamay-style acidity. A nice red match for grilled salmon.
Also part of today's release is another rendition of the same grape, Malivoire Gamay 2007 ($17.95, No. 591313). This one's a tad lighter and very crisp, with a blast of sour cherry and good concentration.
The red today that perhaps most underscores the sunshine of 2007, though, is Southbrook Triomphe Syrah 2007 ($24.95, No. 129809). Many Canadian consumers know syrah as the shiraz of south Australia, where it thrives under almost relentlessly clear summer skies, notably in the grape sauna of Barossa Valley. Syrah in Ontario? It kind of sounds like tundra in the Caribbean.
But there you go: Southbrook, under winemaker Ann Sperling, has done the variety proud. Full-bodied, it's soft and silky, with dark-skinned-fruit and cracked-pepper flavours classic to the grape, plus a satisfying little tannic grip on the finish.
The other Ontario standout from today's release is Lailey Pinot Noir 2007 ($24.95, No. 591404). Medium-bodied, with classic berry and beet nuances, this nicely tailored pinot gets added complexity from notes of earth and mineral. There's also a light coating of silt-like tannins on the finish that bode well for three to four years of cellaring. By then, with any luck, we'll have another top-notch domestic vintage to start collecting.
Pick of the week
13th Street Winery Gamay Noir 2007 ($18, product No. 130195)
is predictably light in body but has impressive depth of flavour, with a silky texture and notes of vanilla and earth. It's a nice red match for grilled salmon.