Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wineries of Lake Erie North Shore Offer Great Wine and “Southern” Hospitality

Tanya Mitchell smiles when she explains that “Southern hospitality” is what sets apart the wineries of the Lake Erie North Shore wine growing region. It may sound strange to a visitor from the US, where the phrase conjures images of magnolia trees and Georgia mansions, but LENS is the southernmost winegrowing region in Canada and is blessed with a unique maritime climate thanks to its location hugging the north side of Lake Erie.

The president of the Southwestern Ontario Vintner’s Association and winemaker at Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery, Tanya had pointed out to me that while Toledo Wines and Vines has had numerous features on Niagara Peninsula wineries and those in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we had overlooked the LENS wineries, which are less than 100 miles from Toledo and just a short drive from Windsor. A visit was clearly in order.

“We have 14 wineries and four more are getting ready to open,” said Tanya. “We have the best growing season in Canada and the motivation to do it right.”

Sprucewood produces about 5,000 cases a year and is a beautiful destination winery with a beachfront on Lake Erie. It’s a family affair, as the owners are
Tanya’s parents, Hannah and Gord Mitchell.
We tasted through a couple of whites and several reds. The 2010 Chardonnay had a nice aroma and flavors of lemon and banana. On the red side, our favorites were the 2007 Lady in Red (blend of Cab Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon) and the 2007 Meritage. The 2009 Baco Noir was beautiful in color with a juicy fruit flavor and a touch of sweetness.

We were headed to London to catch a play before continuing on to Niagara-on-the-Lake for TasteCamp North (reports coming soon), but we wanted to hit a couple more LENS wineries before leaving the area.

Our next stop was Viewpointe Estate Winery, which boasts a panoramic view of Lake Erie and some tasty Ontario wine. The tasting room is spectacular and the most discerning wine lover would feel right at home. The winery offers an impressive array of wine education and culinary classes.

We opened up our tasting with the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc VQA. Sauv Blanc is currently Green Dragon’s favorite white, and she gave this one a thumbs up. It had a great aroma of grassiness and grapefruit. The 2008 Riesling VQA was pleasant but lacked the acidity to give it the necessary pop.  The 2008 Auxerrois VQA is a unique grape. It had a pineapple flavor with a slight tang. There was a bit of sweetness. I enjoyed this one.

The 2005 Cabernet Franc wasn’t available for tasting, but the server opened a bottle of 2002 Focal Pointe Cab Franc. We didn’t care for this. It was a red brick in color, light in body, and had a woody taste.

The 2007 Fine Point Pinot Noir VQA was on target. This had earthy tones and nice cherry flavors. Our favorite was the 2009 Colchester Cuvee. The Cuvee is a blend of three experimental grapes selected from 2,800 varieties grown in a test program. They are called HG01, HG03 and HG04, but all you really need to know is that they rock, producing a Cabernet Sauvignon type wine with a deep red color, meaty aroma, and juicy ripe fruit flavor.

Our final LENS stop was the case of the road less travelled. The two largest wineries in the region are Pelee Island Winery and Colio Estate Wines. Our path took us right past Pelee Island, but we opted to instead head north to Aleksander Estate Winery.

The winery is run by the Bemben family, and Genny Bemben was our very pleasant server. All grapes come from their five-acre vineyard atop one of the highest points in Essex County.

We tried the Pinot Grigio which was crisp with apple and pear flavor notes, but then moved to reds. Our two favorites were the Baco Noir, velvet-smooth with a tasty berry flavor and full body, and the Amarouge. The name Amarouge is a salute to the family's grandchildren. The wine is a medium-bodied blend of Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz. This is a twist on the typical Meritage, which features the two Cabs and typically Merlot. This wine is dry and recommended.

We closed with the Cassis, a sweet wine made with black currants.

Although Aleksander doesn’t boast the impressive grounds of some of the other wineries, they pour the good stuff and it is worth the visit to sample their unique wines.

Focus on the LENS wineries if you are seeking an Ontario wine experience that offers great wine, eye-catching scenery, and exceptional value.

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