The wines of Ontario: a 67 Pall Mall webinar

During times of ISO, private members club 67 Pall Mall has been running webinars. They are based on 6 carefully prepared small samples of wine (using Coravin argon to minimize oxygen pick up) that members can order in advance of the seminar, and they have opened up a new category for remote webinar-only members. Anyone can join the seminars without the wine.

Yesterday I joined a webinar on the wines of Canadian province Ontario, hosted by Magdalena Kaiser. As well as working to promote Ontario VQA wines, she is the daughter of the late Karl Kaiser who was one of the co-founders of Inniskillin. This was a winery that was very important in shaping the modern Ontario wine scene. They were awarded the first new winery licence in almost 50 years, back in 1974. ‘I have been part of this industry since the early days,’ says Magdalena. ‘What I find exciting is that what we have today is what the vision was back in the 1970s.’ Gradually the native American and hybrid vines gave way to Vitis vinifera varieties (just two hybrids have survived in any quantity – Baco Noir and Vidal), and now there are 6900 hectares of vines in Ontario, with 180 wineries. Production is around 30 million bottles annually, one for each Canadian.

The climate here is one of extremes. Ontario is on the same latitude as Tuscany. It has freezing winters and hot, humid summers. Fortunately, the presence of Lake Ontario, which is big and deep, moderates the extremes. It slows the start of the season, helping the vines dodge the spring frosts (although frost propellors can help in some sites), and then the vine races ahead, with the lake moderating the highs of summer and then allowing for an extended growing season in autumn, before the tough winter arrives.

The famous falls, over the Niagara Escarpment

The Niagara Peninsula is the main Ontario wine region, and all the wines in this tasting came from here. Soils vary: those below the Niagara escarpment are the result of old lake beds providing the top soil, while vineyards on and above the escarpment get a good sniff at the Dolomitic limestone bedrock.  

This region is well visited. With Toronto around 90 minutes away, it receives 3 million visitors a year. Key varieties are those represented here: only Gamay is missing, a rising star here.

These wines were chosen from the Canadian wines available in the UK.

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2016 Vinemount Ridge
11.8% alcohol, with 20 g/l residual sugar. On top of the Niagara escarpment, this is the coolest of the subappellations. This is fresh and vital with a lightness to the palate, with focused citrus fruit, some pithy notes and some stony, mineral characters. There’s a hint of diesel character, too. Has high acidity and comes across as dry and intense, but also has a touch of sweetness, adding some volume. But you’d never suspect 20 g/l from the taste. 92/100

Wescott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2018 Vinemount Ridge
12.5% alcohol. Westcott are a relatively new producer, but they are making some waves. Because the ridge isn’t protected, they have to bury some of their vines in the winter. Wild ferment, French oak, 20% new. There’s some delicacy here, with good acidity framing the citrus and pear fruit. But there’s also some richness on the mid-palate with a soft peachy note and some smooth texture. Well balanced and refined, this is really nice. Finishes fresh. 91/100

Thomas Bachelder

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2017 Niagara Peninsula
Thomas Bachelder makes several different Chardonnays in Niagara, which helps profile the different terroirs – we can see how the different sub-appellations perform in the hands of one winemaker. This is a blend, though. French oak for 18 months, 10% new. Limited battonage. It has some volume: it’s rounded and broad on the mid-palate with some white peach and spice, and a touch of citrus. Good length here, with freshness as well as richness, and a nice flow on the palate. Very stylish, if a tiny bit shy. 91/100

Bachelder Wismer-Parke Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 Twenty-Mile Bench
The Wismer vineyard is about 200 acres, but Thomas Bachelder has worked to carve out different plots in the vineyard. This is delicate, elegant and refined. Fine red cherries, some stone, a touch of iodine and a lovely grainy structure. Just a hint of undergrowth with nice complexity. This is really lovely with nice precision. A really lovely expression of Pinot. 94/100

Stratus Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2017 Niagara-on-the-Lake
14% alcohol. One of the warmest plots in Niagara. They have 60 acres of vineyard with lots of different varieties. This is a rich, bold expression of Cabernet Franc, with nice depth, showing sweet blackberry and black cherry fruit. There’s some richness with a lovely sweet, slightly jammy character supported by nice structure. Ripe but not overblown, this is a really nice ripe, full bodied expression of Cabernet Franc. 92/100

Peller Estate Vidal Icewine 2017 Niagara Peninsula
This is very sweet with 179 g/l sugar. Viscous and rich with bold, exotic tropical fruit aromatics and a broad, rich palate with honey, spice and apricot notes. Such a rich, intense wine with good balancing acidity, but also a huge level of sweetness apparent on the palate. Very pure and delicious. Exotic and enticing. 92/100

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