Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A pair of stunning Niagara pinot noirs

I'm happy to report that I've finally set up my tv I brought back from Waterloo in my basement. So finally I have a place to chill and watch tv in peace. Anyways, it also gave me an opportunity to quietly enjoy and contemplate a pair of Niagara wines that I found truly incredible. Just incredible. I had a bottle of each on consecutive nights, and while both were unique, they showed a surprisingly strong sense of place and regional typicity. And by the way, I apologize for these truly atrocious pictures. The blame belongs to my cell phone camera.

The first bottle I drank was a 2004 Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir. This is a wine produced from a single vineyard, called Montague. And although I know a lot of so-called single vineyard wines are barely mediocre, I've always loved this wine. Definitely the best in Inniskillin's portfolio, and only available at the winery. I know people who love Inniskillin's icewines will disagree with that statement, but I stand behind it. I absolutely feel that this pinot noir shows much more regional characteristics than their icewines ever will.

The wine was a beautiful light ruby. I don't understand the misconception that a lighter red wine is somehow of a lesser quality than something more deeply coloured. This is an intense wine, and when I drink Niagara pinot noir, this is what I'm looking for. Incredible strawberry and this nutty, smoky quality. Unmistakable Niagara pinot noir. Just unmistakable - if you appreciate pinot noir from the Beamsville Bench and Twenty Mile Bench appellations, you will adore this wine. Fine tannins, underlined by a racy acidity, which finishes so smooth. The question of ripeness, however remains. I think ripeness might be more of an issue, in terms of tannins. A bit bitter on the finish. Just an incredible wine, and something that I think can age for a few more years. I really think it'll develop more earthy flavours, as the acidity makes it so lively. I have one more bottle left, the key is patience. What a delicious wine!

The second bottle was a 2005 Mommessin "Les Caves", AC Moulin-a-Vent. This is from the Beaujolais AOC of France. People think Beaujolais, and they think about cheap wines. Untrue - well, at least not completely true. The marketing job on Beaujolais nouveau has been magnificent, but the cru Beaujolais are fantastic wines. They're more artisanal wines, with more character and depth. Nouveau wine is alcoholic grape juice. Cru Beaujolais is wine.

Originally, I wanted to open a 2005 Lailey Vineyard Pinot Noir. I was in the mood for another pinot noir from the Niagara Peninsula. But then, I wanted a Moulin-a-Vent. It's made from the gamay grape, and is often mistaken for pinot noirs. And what a lovely complement to the Inniskillin pinot noir! Fresh, crushy fruit, all underlined with an earthiness that I love so much. This sense of soil and herbs, and just a beautiful subtlety to the wine. A much more "complete" wine than the Inniskillin. But the influence is unmistakable. Unmistakable. If you drink these blind, you would swear they were the same producer, using the same grape. To me, I thought the Inniskillin was absolutely delicious. But the Mommessin is more interesting, with more character and greater subltlety in structure.

I fell in love with the Inniskillin all over again. So intense, rich, fresh...this is the kind of wine that Niagara producers need to start focussing on. Pinot noirs that showcase the land, the region. I need to drink the Lailey again to make sure, but for now this is my favourite wine from the Niagara Peninsula. What I find this region is lacking however, is a more stiffer austerity, from the acidity. Compared with wines from the Beamsville Bench and Twenty Mile Bench, this wine feels a bit flabby. I suppose it's a result of manipulating to be softer - wines with harder acidity are difficult to appreciate for the casual consumer. In my opinion, malolactic fermentation is too frequently used as a crutch, to correct for under-ripeness. But then again, what do I know.

If you havn't tried these wines, please find a bottle of both. They're not that expensive - $25 and $20. If you still think Ontario red wines aren't worth it, you will definitely be surprised by the quality here.

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