The adjacent Beamsville Bench and Twenty Mile Bench are in close proximity to the town of Beamsville and Vineland Ontario respectively. These appellations exhibit many similarities to the Burgundy and Alsace regions of France. The most celebrated wines coming out of these regions are Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.
The soils in both benches are deep and rich in limestone and glacial till. The minerality really shows in Rieslings and the Pinot Noirs. The locations on the Niagara escarpment and proximity to Lake Ontario provide these appellations with gradual warming in the spring and gradual cooling in the fall with long growing seasons which allows for full ripeness and good concentration.
After visiting nine wineries in the Niagara peninsula I was able to acquire three Ontario Pinot Noirs that were of approximately equal value ($25-$35). Each of these Pinot Noirs came from either the Twenty Mile Bench or Beamsville Bench from known and established wineries. I had visited 2 of the 3 wineries wines and other came from a well known producer of Pinot Noir in the region.
Both LC and myself are big fans of Pinot Noir and it seemed like an interesting experiment to pit three of the top end Niagara wine producers against each other (if nothing else for something to do). You will see more of this from Icon Wines with different varietals, different regions, and different formats, and to a certain degree this was a trial run.
All of the Pinot Noirs tasted throughout the Niagara Region were quite good, however I thought it would be interesting to see what 5 random and `average`wine drinkers came up with in terms of preference. I decided to do the tasting `blind` just to eliminate any preconceptions of cost or producer bias.
Le Clos Jordanne is owned by Vincor in partnership with Boisset France. LCJ specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay which are the grapes grown best in the Twenty Mile Bench. This region is very similar to that of Burgundy France in terms of soil and precipitation. The Village Reserve grapes are an assemblage from four vineyards and this offering is the entry level Pinot Noir for LCJ out of four in this flight. The top end Icon Class Pinot Noir produced by LCJ is Le Grand Clos and sells for approximately $70/bottle.
Tawse is a Beamsville Bench Winery that is known for great Pinot Noirs. Tawse is a small lot producer and has a flight of 4 Pinot Noirs. The Chardonnay’s produced from this winery are very good (Robin’s Block Chardonnay was a stand out for me). The winery is beautiful and the grounds have an old world feel. There is a serious impact when you approach this winery and Tawse are serious winemakers that have made an impact on winemaking in the Niagara Peninsula.
Thirty Bench is one of the oldest wineries in the Beamsville bench area, and has made a reputation for itself with their flight of four Rieslings. Their reds and red blends are truly outstanding and the private tastings were a fun and informative experience. TB has one Pinot Noir from a small lot vineyard. The red blends were truly a standout for this winery. And this was by far one of the best wine producers I had the pleasure of visiting while in the Niagara Region
The rules for the showdown were quite simple. Each of the five `judges` were given a pad with three sheets of paper. Each sheet of paper was labelled with Wine 1, Wine 2, or Wine 3. For each of the three wines I had the judges (regardless of "winemanship") write notes about 1) The Nose 2) The Palate 3) The Finish, and 4) A rating between 1 and 10.
The tasting was blind (for myself as well) and we were freely able to discuss what people tasted and which wines they liked and disliked and why. Each judge was poured one round of tasting size samples of each wine. Upon completion of the first round the second round was poured in the same order with the glasses being rinsed and dried between tastings. After these two rounds the judges had a choice of wines they wanted to try and again to make their final decisions.
At the end of the official tasting the judges submitted their notes and the ratings were tallied. The wine with the highest accumulated score was the winner of the Pinot Noir showdown 2009.
Beyond that it was a free for all with the remainder of the wine and a good time was had by all.
The judges were not wine snobs as much as they were lovers of wine. It was for this reason that I thought a fair assessment of the wines could be obtained and ultimately the `People`s Choice` could be realized. It was the intent that the average reader could look at this showdown and say this is what 5 random people thought was the preferred Pinot Noir, maybe I`ll go try that out.
The cross section of judges was this. 2 retired females (a former insurance broker and an administrative assistant for a law firm), 2 early 30`s male professionals (an OPP officer and a natural resource consultant), and finally an early thirties female professional (a clinical scientist). While it was not the most diverse group it did give a fairly good distribution of backgrounds and age considering there were only five judges.
One interesting note about the judges was that one of them claimed not to be a `red wine` drinker and it turned out by the end of the showdown we had a convert. I believe that is saying something for the Ontario Pinot Noirs.
Stayed tuned for the results of the Pinot Noir showdown, the winner and some general conclusions.