* This is a cross-post that also appears on Uncork Ontario’s 30 Days of Blogging Series – check it out for a deep dive into the Ontario wine scene.
It’s quiet at Archive Wine Bar on the afternoon of André Proulx’s recent Ontario Cabernet Franc tasting. Each of us seems slightly awed by the 47 bottles of Ontario Cabernet Franc lined up across the entire length of the bar – bottles sourced from wineries in almost every region in the province.
There is sipping, swirling and spitting, then furious note-taking as we try to capture thoughts on each wine. Are there hallmarks of the grape that are unique to the region? Does Ontario Cabernet Franc differ significantly from other Cab Franc’s we’ve tried from around the world?
Discussion happens in fits and starts – someone suggests we have to try a certain bottle, noses are turned up at another, I spill wine (of course I do), winemaker styles are compared, new wineries mentioned. It’s the sort of day made for wine geeks – a chance to really, truly explore one of the best grapes grown in this region, a grape that grows well in a cold-climate and produces some top notch bottles every year.
As a student of wine, this is an incredible opportunity and one I appreciated immensely. Cabernet Franc was the grape that pulled me into the Ontario wine scene, but I had never experienced the nuances of the wine in such a strong way before. This province is making some truly great wines right now and tasting side by side was the best way to learn about them.
Cabernet Franc is a wine that works best with food and I’d highly recommend any of the wines below to accompany your meal – especially something that goes well with the wines earthy notes. Steak, mushrooms, roasted chicken? All would work well, in my opinion.
So what wines made my heart sing and should send you straight to the winery to source a bottle? Here are a few of my favourites:
Cave Springs Cellars Dolomite 2013 – A fruit-forward nose with strawberry, cherry and a bit of green pepper. Ripe berries and spice on the palate. A long finish that left me wanting more.
Chateau des Charmes 2012 – This one elicited much conversation about how it punches well above its weight in terms of quality for price. A very well-made wine with raspberry notes on the nose and a palate pleasing peppery fruit finish. At $13.95 it’s an absolute steal.
Niagara College Teaching Winery 2012 Dean’s List – They make some pretty amazing wines at the Niagara Teaching Winery and this Dean’s List pick is a great example of some of the winemaking talent coming from the school. There’s some real heat on this one, good tannin and lots of cherry and raspberry notes. A reminder that I need to visit again soon.
Norman Hardie Vineyards 2013 – One of two wines that we tasted blind, this had lots of smoked meat and red fruit on the nose, great acidity and a unique smokiness on the palate. Very different than the other wines I favoured, but very good. Best with food.
Pondview Estate Winery 2012 Bella Terra – My favourite of the day, I confess to drinking a glass (or two) of this with dinner that night. It held up just as well when I went back for another glass the next day. Raspberry, licorice, smoke and pepper on the nose, this has sweet, ripe fruit on the palate alongside earthy vegetal notes. Can I just write “nomnom” and hope you’ll get how much I liked this?
Southbrook Vineyards 2013 Triomphe – Cherry, raspberry, smoke and earth combined on the nose and palate into a very enjoyable, eminently drinkable wine.
Southbrook Vineyards 2012 Whimsy – Dark cherry, plum and anise on the nose, well-balanced body and palate-pleasing fruit. I’m really liking what Southbrook is doing with Cabernet Franc right now (evident since they’re the only winery with two bottles on the list this time).
Tawse Estate Winery 2011 Grower’s Blend – Earthy nose with smoked meat, tar, vanilla and smoke. Ripe fruit with hints of vanilla on the finish. A very good wine now, an even better one in a few more years.
Vineland Estates Winery 2010 Reserve – Smooth on the palate, good body, lots of ripe, red fruit and hints of pepper on the nose. Drinking well now, drinking better in five years.
What do you think of these choices? Do you have a favourite Ontario Cabernet Franc? How would it stand up side by side with other Ontario options?
Many thanks to André for organizing this amazing tasting experience – you can (and should) read André’s blog here.
It's interesting that Cab Franc is doing so well up in Ontario, although after spending time in the Finger Lakes, I guess I shouldn't be surprised about that. How do you think the Ontario Cab Francs compared with the FLX ones? Do they have similar characteristics? I ask because I enjoyed the FLX ones, but they are noticeably different than ones from France of the U.S. West Coast.
It's interesting how different Ontario Cabernet Franc is even in different regions of the province (I find it earthier and less fruit-forward in PEC compared to Niagara), so there are definitely differences as compared to FLX and France. Finger Lakes has a similar terroir to PEC, so I actually found it had a lot of hallmarks of their Cab Franc – a little more earthy – but it still had it's own style. I think the grape will always have certain characteristics that identify it as Cab Franc no matter where it's grown, but it's amazing to see how weather conditions/soil/winemaker, etc. really factor into the nuances.
I'd love to try the Niagara Teaching School wine and the Tawsa Vineyards–your notes got me intrigued! And what a great experience for yoou–I'd love a nonrushed period of time to explore such wines at my leisure. That's the one thing I feel WBC lacks, not being rushed!