Michael Pinkus… Some of 2019’s Best County Wines
For this column is, I hit The County highways and bi-ways twice this year hoping to cobble together a top five list of wines for this time of season – something you can ensure to have on hand to impress relatives and guests coming over to experience the best of The County and how far The County has come quality-wise. Quickly my list expanded from five, so let’s call this column what it really is: some of the best County wines I tried in 2019.
Two recent releases making the list, Hinterland 2015 Les Etoiles and the Closson Chase 2017 Pinot Noir Sterling Barrique – have a great origin story to tell. Hinterland’s is one of thirty months on lees, heavy Chardonnay with less Pinot Noir, all due to an early frost during the growing season, which managed to wipe out quite a bit of crop so this is all that remained, but because 2015 was such a good season the fruit that which remained was “stellar”, according to Jonas Newman, and it created one of their best bubbles to date. Closson’s Pinot is aged in used Canadian oak barrels which were harvested for the winery from nearby Stirling, and the fruit is from their own Churchside vineyard, directly across the road from the winery. It’s a purely local Pinot that follows the hundred mile diet to a tee. And a damn fine Pinot it is too.
Lighthall might be known for cheese and bubbles but winemaker and owner Glenn Symons may have made his best Chardonnay ever with his 2017 Chardonnay – it has a Chablis-esque freshness and minerality combined with a delicate oak presence – it’s something Glenn hopes to replicate each and every year … here’s to hope.
There are those that rant about the Chardonnays, the Pinots and even the Gris from Colin Stanners’ vineyard, but for my money this year his 2017 Cabernet Franc really made waves: picked on Halloween that year and pressed off in January 2018, this Franc is what Franc fans dream of: dark fruit core with subtle smoke, pepper and hints of tobacco – but the fruit reigns supreme here and that’s just what you want in your Franc. Granted it’s from Niagara fruit, but it is handled in a very County way.
I’m willing to admit that the County truly is the home for some unbelievable Ontario Chardonnay and it’s tough to boil a list down to just a few that stood out, and I am sure I’ll get push back for my choices, but I am going to add a couple more to the list here. As far as I am concerned the Hubbs Creek 2016 Profumo di Legno and the Keint-he 2017 Greer Road Single Vineyard are stand outs, especially because they are so radically different in their use of oak and final profile – definitely two wines worth checking out if you are a Chardonnay fan.
Dan Sullivan at Rosehall Run had many great outputs this year, but his JCR stuff is always impressive, and while the consistency he has shown with Chardonnay is equally impressive I leaned towards the 2016 JCR Pinot Noir which took me back to one of his previous vintages with the grape that caused me a little grief, but in a good way – meaning I was so enthralled with drinking it I forgot to eat, and I was very close to the end of the bottle before I even realized!
My final selection is not from The County but I’m gonna say it’s close enough – it’s from a surprising place just north in Tweed, where grapes have no business growing: The Potter Settlement 2017 Cabernet Franc was such a surprise and a revelation that I just had to put it on this list.
Recapping the wines on this list:
Hinterland 2015 Les Etoiles
Closson Chase 2017 Pinot Noir Sterling Barrique
Lighthall 2017 Chardonnay
Stanners 2017 Cabernet Franc
Hubbs Creek 2016 Profumo di Legno
Keint-he 2017 Greer Rd Single Vineyard
Rosehall Run 2016 JCR Pinot Noir
Potter Settlement 2017 Cabernet Franc
But before we conclude here’s a bonus, I would like to draw your attention to a place in The County called Kinsip Distillery – they make spirits and while spirits really aren’t my thing I can tell you their Maple Whisky made by putting whisky into barrels that recently held maple syrup is truly a revelation, and something extra special to taste – and the maple syrup that comes out of those barrels is pretty awesome in its own right. You can get both at the distillery.
Why not entertain your guests with a blind tasting challenge? Often this is the most fun and most humbling aspect of wine tasting – you have nothing to go by, but the knowledge and experience of wines you have tried in the past and sometimes not even that is enough. Be generous after a few sips and give a generous clue, like the region the wine(s) might be from. Try this parlour game at home for your next get together – the one having the most fun is the person who picked the wines as they get to watch everyone else guess and stumble their way along. Award points and the winner gets to host the next gathering.