Pitting County Pinot Noir’s against France’s finest
It’s pinot noir. It’s known as the “heartbreak grape.” Yet, last June, at the National Wine Awards of Canada, over 100 Pinots competed, with 10 capturing Gold medals. According to David Lawrason, one of Canada’s most insightful wine writers (winealign.com) and a friend, pinot noir is Canada’s “most important red grape variety.” With vineyards planted in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, it certainly has a Canadawide geographical distribution. Thin-skinned and finicky, yet possessed of a somewhat winter- hardy nature, pinot ripens earlier than most other red varietals, so securing a better chance for achieving balanced ripeness. By the way, that’s no small feat in a country vintners generally know for its cool climate and short growing season.
It’s usually a lighter-looking red, so if you favour a darker presence in your glass a Pinot poured may be visually off-putting— I have often heard friends exclaim: “it looks watered down!” Don’t be fooled. Wellmade Pinots are known for elegance, fragrance and complexity, or, as David puts it, for being “intellectually fascinating.” For me, Prince Edward County Pinots offer up aromas of strawberry, sour cherry, and currant fruit, sometimes cedar and herb/spice notes, matched with smooth acidity and low tannins.
Of course, a wine’s flavour profile and bouquet depend on terroir and how a winemaker treats each vintage, meaning there is always something new to try. With the County less than an hour’s drive away, Kingstonians can easily taste and compare what our region has to offer, year after year. And, fortunately, we have some great winemakers in (as David has described) “the only Canadian wine region essentially founded on the promise of pinot noir,” if also the “most exciting, volatile and vexing Pinot region in the country.” I am certain most local growers would agree. For while it is located at a latitude (44.0003° N) comparable to Burgundy (47.0525°), with similar Growing Degree Days (1250 GDD to 1300 GDD), making great wines in the County initially proved challenging. And it sometimes still is—the disappointing 2015 vintage a case in point. No matter. The County’s winemakers persevered and have often triumphed, as you will quickly discover by sampling Pinots from, for example, Long Dog Winery, The Old Third, Rosehall Run, Closson Chase, Exultet, Karlo Estates, Stanners, Norman Hardie and several other vineyards.
Just over a quarter-century ago, a small group of Kingston professors began holding symposia (from the Greek for “drinking together”), adapting a whimsical name for their fellowship, The Royal Winers. For over a decade we have also been observing the steadily improving quality of the County’s wines. So this year we carefully picked four Pinots (there are perks to volunteerism!) from the more than 40 wineries now found in the County. The selected wines will be compared with three great Burgundies in a blind wine tasting on Saturday, November 4, the second annual Judgement of Kingston. Joining us are several well-respected wine writers—Carolyn Hammond (wine columnist, Toronto Star), Dr Jamie Goode (a British-based wine blogger, wineanorak.com), Veronique Rivest (Canada’s Best Sommelier in 2012 and owner of Gatineau’s wonderful SOIF wine bar) and Christopher Waters (editor, Vines Magazine and wine critic for PostMedia). A Kingston sommelier, Dr Kimberley Meathrel, and Clark Day (bon vivant and chef at the Bayview Farm Restaurant), will again serve as the afternoon’s co-hosts.
How well will the County’s wines perform against a selection of fine Pinots from France? I have no idea. But last year, comparing great Chardonnays from California against local vintages, the judges declared County Chardonnays first, second and tied for fourth place of the seven wines served, a result few if any of us anticipated. Nice surprises like that are part of the fun and, of course, everyone tries each of the seven wines, making tasting notes and rank-ordering their favourites, finally comparing their results with those of the professional critics. Not only is this a great way to learn about Canada’s “most important grape” but you’ll also be helping raise funds for the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario during our “silent auction” of wines and wine-related merchandise.
An old French proverb recommends: “May you never want for wine nor for a friend to help drink it.” You won’t want for either at the Judgement of Kingston.