Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tasting at Flat Rock Cellars


Some of the finest people I've ever met, I've met during my tasting trips to Niagara. Always generous with their knowledge and wines, always welcoming and friendly. Gushing aside, onto the wines . . .

I'd been looking forward to visiting this producer for quite some time. Schedule never able to cooperate, but this Sunday was the perfect opportunity to visit Flat Rock Cellars, to taste through some of the 2009's (including some exciting new wines!) as well as the embryonic 2010's. A few things before I begin on the actual wines tasted. Not all the 2009's have been released yet - of the reds, I believe only the estate pinot noir is on the market. I know it's sexy for wine writers and bloggers to write about how they get to taste out of tank/barrel; it's certainly exciting for me as well to experience a wine in its developmental stages, but to write about them as if they were finished products is very misleading. In a sense, they aren't wines yet - not until they are bottled does one get a true sense of what they are, something to keep in mind the next time you read a tasting note from a barrel sample. And of course, with ego kept in check . . . it's all about the wines and the stories behind them, no?

A few exciting new wines being produced here, beginning with a new sparkling wine. There are actually two sparkling wines, the first being the one I tasted, the 2007 Riddled (with higher level of dosage), and the 2006 Brut. Both made from a traditional Champenoise blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, but in differing styles. The 2006 Brut, focused and bright, perhaps a bit more fruit and less of the autolysis character you find in Champagne, but nevertheless a very strong first effort. Both wines bottled under crown cap - this should be an interesting exercise to see how they age. A few new reserve wines also being released: a pinot noir as well as a 2008 Reserve Riesling, in which the winemaker's decided to do malolactic fermentation, an entirely unique process for riesling - unfortunately, I think he shouldn't have messed with a good thing. Changing the structure of the acidity completely robs the riesling of its character - a riesling without its racy acidity is like non-fat yogurt, and no fun for anyone. For a richer body, more weight, why not play with lees age, oak, something else . . . inducing malolactic was a mistake. Fortunately, the rest of the wines tasted were delicious, with lots of character. The 2009 Estate Riesling, bright with lots of energy and ripe fruit.

We headed downstairs to taste through some 2010 tank and barrel samples. As mentioned earlier, these tasting notes are of wines in its earliest stage, fledglings which have yet to truly resemble finished wines. Many of the wines tasted were barely finished (or still) fermenting. Therefore, I won't go into each specific sample tasted - rather, I'll attempt to frame the tasting notes in a broader sense, and give an indication of what to expect from this vintage. However, a few things are clear (or rather, unhazy). Beginning with . . .

The 2010 vintage is going to be an exciting one.

The wines are incredibly precise in varietal character. Chardonnays from all the various plots have beautiful ripe citrus flavours, showing creaminess but also a lovely acidity that picks up the dense minerality. Rieslings are in a more extracted style, with ripe fruit and electricity running through them all - instantly identifiable as wines coming from the Bench. Gewurztraminer, spicy with a lovely lychee element, textbook flavours for this varietal. The chardonnays that see oak will be interesting - this producer is playing with barrels sourced from various cooperages, the goal being to match the character of the wine with an appropriate cooper. A unique approach, which speaks to elevating a wine to the best of its inherent potential, instead of fashioning a wine to a specific taste profile. All the oak-aged chardonnays are showing good creaminess, texture, and balance, although these were harder to judge at this stage, the majority having just finished, or still undergoing, fermentation.

The pinot noirs are exciting as ever. Lovely ruby colours already, just luminous. Elegant, floral bouquets, complex and very fine indeed. Flat Rock always makes distinctive pinot noirs - looking forward very much to see these in bottle.

This producer has proven its ability to make consistent, charming wines in the past - these new wines are an exciting addition. Having spent some time here now, it's clear that something special is going on. Inspired winemaking is the key to success, regardless of where you're producing the wine. The winemaker here planted mustard and buckwheat in between the vines this past vintage, to introduce more nitrogen into the soil (alleviating the need for synthetic fertilizer), as well as to attract predatory insects (to combat pests). The team here is committed to using just screwcaps, hence the push to bottle one of the (very) few sparkling wines on the market under crown cap. And the idea is to tone back the use of new oak, using puncheons, and really matching the appropriate type of barrel to the kind of fruit each parcel is producing.

Inspired winemaking, all around.


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