Last week a group of friends and wine lovers–many of whom Twitter about food or wine–gathered to sample some of Ontario’s best Riesling. We tasted ten bottles from Niagara plus two surprise outsiders.
The identity of each wine was disguised during the tasting and at the end of the night a favourite and least favourite was selected based on a show of hands.
The results were, if not startling, eye-opening. Tasting blind the crowd managed to pick wines for our favourite and least favourite that are exactly the same $17.95 price. The 2009 Tawse “Sketches of Niagara” Riesling took top honours and my notes have it as flinty on the nose and tasting slightly sweet with notes of pineapple. Stripped of its clever packaging and catchy name the voters shunned the 2007 Megalomaniac Narcissist Riesling with whose nose I was particularly disappointed. More intriguing is that the two wineries, Tawse and John Howard Cellars of Distinction (who produce Megalomaniac) are directly across Cherry Avenue in Vineland from each other and apparently the lion’s share of grapes used for both wines were grown by the same growers on the same plot. Terroir-ists will, I’m sure, gasp in disbelief.
Admittedly, there are some minor flaws to this sort of blind tasting and voting process. The number of “favourite” votes received by the first two wines we tasted (and voted on) makes me wonder if palates were tired by the time wine thirteen was poured or if guests didn’t fully understand the one-vote process. Also, while wines were brown-bagged the exposed bottle tops (colour and screw vs. cork) may have given some tasters hints.
I liked the crowd-popular Tawse but also have good things to say about Fielding’s 2007 “Lot 17″ Riesling ($25.95 winery/online only) which I particularly liked for its interesting fruit flavours (more melon than others) and well-balanced acidity. I also really liked the evening’s least-expensive Ontario bottle Vineland Estate’s Dry Riesling ($14.05 at the LCBO 167551) whose nose recalled the complex sweetness of maple bacon for me.
Just as masks facilitate the sort of behaviour portrayed in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut the brown bags helped loosen the critical tongues in the room. With the labels (and their mainstream tasting suggestions like “lemon” “grapefruit” and “peach”) covered tasters felt more comfortable–or at least I did–about ranging widely with their descriptions. One wine evoked Fa, the unisex deodorant that I’ll always associate with my first-year roommate while another had the distinct aroma of bicycle tires. Possibly my most on-target description was “dill pickle potato chips” for the 1995 Early Harvest Botrytis Riesling supplied by wine savant Mike Di Caro (@mikedicaro on Twitter).
My week of Riesling–and a day of brick oven construction–ended with the second installment from the Inniskillin Winemaker’s Series, their 2008 Two Vineyards Riesling. It didn’t provide the same eye-opening change from the usual that I found in the barrel-aged Pinot Gris but this is a very drinkable Riesling. The Inniskillin’s moderate acidity worked well with our dinner of (vaguely) Cuban style grilled pork, Ontario Swiss Chard, and the first local corn. I liked how the pork’s lime and mint flavours contrasted with the lemon and grapefruit I found in this Riesling. The LCBO is offering a dollar off this bottle right now which puts it at a very reasonable $16.95.