After tasting their way through 337 wines as part of the Ottawa Wine Challenge, the experts have their say on which wines you should seek out at this year’s Ottawa Wine & Food Festival
By David Lawrason
The task was a pleasant one for an autumn Saturday — find the best wines out of 337 bottles submitted to the Ottawa Wine Challenge. The purpose? To guide visitors attending this year’s Ottawa Wine & Food Festival (Nov. 7 to 11 at the Ottawa Convention Centre).
Yes, one of the big joys of browsing the show is making your own discoveries, but with hundreds of wines, beers, and spirits on offer, it certainly helps to have some direction. And so 14 judges — sommeliers, wine writers, and LCBO product consultants from the capital region, along with a handful of interlopers from Toronto — assembled a few months before the festival for a blind-tasting competition.
Pourers dealt out over 50 flights of numbered glasses among four panels. Here, collected in one list, are the best white and red of show, plus six other gold medallists and two silver medallists that I personally think are of particular interest. The ratings out of 100 are mine, as are the tasting notes. The unveiling of the gold medallists at day’s end revealed some great surprises — all of them, of course, pleasant.
BEST OF SHOW WHITE
Alpine Valley 2011 Sauvignon Blanc
$14.95 • Marlborough, New Zealand • 88 points
Outfitted with a “popping” screw cap, this new label from a higher-altitude region within Marlborough has intense, exotic flavours of green mango, green bean, and something like ginger/lime salsa. It’s medium-weight with some sweetness but finishes with a sour edge and buckets of fruit. The energy and excellent length were, for me, the gold medal elements. Chill well. LCBO 241810.
BEST OF SHOW RED
Coyote’s Run 2010 Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir
$24.95 • Niagara Peninsula, Ontario • 90 points
The small patch of iron-rich, organically infertile red soil of this vineyard at the foot of St. David’s Bench has turned out intriguing pinot noirs for the past decade. From an excellent Ontario vintage, this red has great character and intensity, with cran-raspberry fruit embellished by toasty oak and herbs. It’s mid-weight, taut, and juicy, with excellent length. Try it now, but age it three years. Its predecessors have won numerous awards. Available for delivery at www.coyotesrunwinery.com.
Ferreira Dona Antonia Reserva Port
$18.95 • Portugal • 90 points
This sweet fortified wine is made in a particularly elegant, sensuous style, with generous aromas of cedary earth elements and youthful black cherry-plum and raisiny fruit, almost like Black Forest cake. It has a lighter feel than many ports and a silky texture but weighs in with a powerful, very sweet, hot, and spicy finish and a touch of tannin. LCBO 157586.
Peter Lehmann 2009 Clancy’s Red
$17.95 • South Australia • 90 points
Aussie reds did well at the Ottawa Wine Challenge, but this rich composed blend of shiraz, cabernet, and merlot outshone them all with well-defined, rich, and complex aromas of blackcurrant/cassis, menthol, chocolate, and toasty oak. It’s full-bodied, smooth, and refined for its size, with excellent gold-medal length. LCBO 611467.
Konzelmann Estate 2011 Shiraz
$12.95 • Niagara Peninsula, Ontario • 89 points
This was, for me, the most pleasant surprise of the challenge — a spiffy, nicely balanced shiraz with pure, correct aromas of white pepper, mint, blackcurrant/blackberry, and wood smoke. It is aged in French oak barrels, but not for long (it is 2011). It’s light-bodied, smooth, and savoury, with incroyable length at under $13. LCBO 144857.
Marqués de Riscal 2007 Reserva
$20.75 • Rioja, Spain • 89 points
This has a traditional, heavily wood-accented, and maturing nose of leather, earth/burlap, and campfire embers, with dark cherry-olive fruit and marzipan. What the nose may lack in grace, the palate achieves. It is mid-weight, smooth yet lively, with focused flavours (same as the nose) hitting very good length. The real deal in traditional rioja.
Best to 2016. LCBO 32656.
Penfolds 2011 Koonunga Hill Chardonnay
$14.95 • South Australia • 88 points
This was a huge surprise. It steers a much lighter course than most Aussie chardonnays, perhaps the result of the very cool vintage down under in 2011. It has a mild, dusty, spicy almond and lemony nose. It’s mid-weight, with some flesh and sweetness, then a tart lemony follow-up with an earthy/woodsy palate. The tale is in the surprisingly long finish. LCBO 321943.
Matua Valley 2011 Sauvignon Blanc
$15.95 • Hawkes Bay, New Zealand • 87 points
In an era of intense, bombastic sauvignons, this cucumber-cool entry caught the judges’ eyes. I have run into a few bottles with some flinty/matchstick sulphur, but its leafy/minty green notes, grapefruit, and passion fruit come through. It’s a lighter style — fairly tender, fresh, and compact, with some sweetness. The finish is like lemongrass or, perhaps, cucumber/dill. LCBO 619452.
Amalaya 2011 Torrontés Riesling
$10.95 • Salta, Argentina • 88 points
This combines two aromatic grapes grown in the remote high-altitude Cafayate region. It is not as aromatically intense as straight-up torrontés, but it captures lime-orange citrus, lavender, green herbs, and riesling’s pear fruit. It’s mid-weight and off-dry but crisp on the finish where the riesling shines. Excellent length. Chill well. LCBO 270470.
Santa Rita 2010 Carménère Reserva
$13.95 • Rapel Valley, Chile • 88 Points
Now emerging as one of Chile’s most exciting grapes, Carménère is a great explorers’ selection. This lovely fruit-drenched example captures pure blackcurrant, mint, rosemary, and some minerality. It’s medium-to-full-bodied, with good density and some sweetness, but the finish is dry, with mild, twiggy green tannin. The length is very good. Best now to 2016. LCBO 177774.